OpinionOPINION: Prognosis On Nigeria’s Wicked Hunger

OPINION: Prognosis On Nigeria’s Wicked Hunger

June 17, (THEWILL) – The United Nations recently stated that Nigeria is on the verge of mass hunger.

However, as someone who has been in the human rights field in this country for as long as two decades, I can say that the UN made just a gross understatement because mass hunger is not merely imminent but has arrived here in Nigeria long enough to demand some urgent actions such as a declaration of a national emergency on hunger by the government.

The irony is that the advocacy for a declaration of hunger emergency in Nigeria looks like asking the government of the country in the different states of the federation and the central government, to tackle or confront the wicked mass hunger which massive corruption by most government officials instigated on a massive and callous scale. It’s like asking a physician to heal thyself. The argument that the government is the harbinger of hunger in Nigeria funds profound support in the submissions and scholarly works of many academics and technocrats, including the Ghanaian-born Kofi Annan who headed the UN for two terms.

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Mr. Kofi Annan, one time United Nations Secretary General, once stated rightly that “corruption deepens poverty; it debases human rights; it degrades the environment; it derails development, including private sector development; it can drive conflict in and between nations, and it destroys confidence in democracy and the legitimacy of government, it debases human dignity and is universally condemned by the world’s major faiths”. Corruption hurts the poor disproportionately and promotes inequality.

On his own side, a Nigerian scholar, Chris M. A. Kwaja (Ph.D), then asserted that while corruption in Nigeria related to socio-economic rights targets how citizens are denied the right to access basic social services such as health, education, food, among others, the denial of their political rights manifests more in the form of their inability to access justice, as well as other forms of discrimination due to their gender, religions, ethnic and political affiliations (Ojo, 2019; Kwaja, 2019).

Here then is the alarm recently raised by the UN as I earlier stated. The report made a revelation of acute food insecurity which, according to the World’s body (UN), is set to increase in magnitude and severity in 18 hunger “Hotspots,” among them Nigeria.

The report released penultimate Wednesday spotlighted the urgent need for assistance. The report found that many hotspots face growing hunger crises and highlights the worrying multiplier effect that simultaneous and overlapping shocks are having on acute food insecurity. Conflict, climate extremes, and economic shocks continue to drive vulnerable households into food crises.

The report warned that 2023 is likely to mark the first year since 2010 in which humanitarian funding has declined compared to the previous year, but it still represents the second-highest funding level ever for humanitarian assistance.

FAO Director-General, QU Dongyu, said: “The daunting prospects highlighted in this report should serve as a wake-up call to all of us. We need to spearhead the shift from responding to crises after they occur to more proactive anticipatory approaches, prevention and resilience building to help vulnerable communities cope with upcoming shocks. Acting ahead of crises can save lives, reduce food shortages and protect livelihoods at a much lower cost than a not timely humanitarian response.”

These signs of mass hunger have been with us for as far back as 2018 when the National Bureau of Statistics estimated that about 133 million Households are in multidimensional poverty. Nigeria took over the infamous position of the poverty capital of the World thus overtaking India in terms of the numbers of disadvantaged and hungry population.

In addition to the unprecedented poverty, the policies unleashed by the current political leaders in Nigeria which culminated in the extremely high pump price of fuel, the poor economic policies also have fueled the cost of living crisis. I must state that the cost of living crisis predates the current government. But the truth is that it has escalated under the watchful eyes of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu in the last one year.

Just last year, Kaduna city residents decried the hike in the price of food commodities following a state government policy that shut down major markets in the state to make way for neighbourhood markets in selected government schools.

News reports revealed that as part of efforts to reduce congestion in major markets, Governor Nasir El-Rufai had last week selected about 49 schools in Chikun, Igabi, Kaduna North and Kaduna South Local Government Areas as temporary sites for the neighbourhood markets.

Shamsiya Ibrahim, who was at the Unguwar Rimi neighbourhood market to purchase food items said the ban on motorcycles and tricycles has compounded the problem as the temporary market was at a far location thereby compelling long walks to purchase mere basic needs which prices have risen astronomically.

“The items I ordinarily buy at N500 at the central market now cost me about N800 and the traders cannot give any reasonable explanation as to why the goods are expensive,” she said.

The situation was similar at the Kurmin Mashi Government School where Rakiya Ismail Surajo explained that by shutting down major markets in the city, the state government has given a monopoly to neighbourhood markets without effective price control.

“Goods you will buy in the market at N500 are sold at N700 here because the traders know that we have no alternative. I think this is an area the government forgot to look into,” she said.

However, Abubakar Suleiman, who sells grains at the Unguwar Sarki temporary market, said the increase in price of goods was due to scarcity, which could be as a result of hoarding by dealers.

“To transport my goods from the main market to the neighbourhood market cost me N1,500 and I am not sure I will recoup the money from today’s profit. I have to take the risk to be here so as to make sales for the day,” he said.

Asmau Kadiri, the woman leader of Ungwan Rimi Market, said the school was not conducive for the traders because there was no shade, saying “You find people of all age groups here selling food items but we are usually under the scourge of the sun.”

She confirmed a “slight increase” in the prices of the goods at the neighbourhood market and explained that it was due to low patronage, insisting that “We need to increase the price having in mind the additional cost in bringing the goods from the market to the schools. There is also a great disparity between the sales we make here and that which we used to make in our stalls.”

The costs of essential items are very high currently, coupled with the emergence of the ugly scenario that a typical worker in the civil service would need to pick up three months’ salaries to be able to buy just a bag of rice that was just less than N35,000 last year before the emergence of the Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s administration.

Even the Supreme Pontiff from the Vatican was moved recently to call for global actions to stave off mass deprivation that has deepened in such countries as Nigeria.

All nations and the international community must commit themselves to eradicating the scourge of hunger. Pope Francis made this appeal in the message he sent to participants in the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization’s 43rd session taking place in Rome, 1-7 July 2023.

“The challenge we face,” the Pope observed, “is joint and collaborative action by the entire family of nations. There can be no room for conflict or opposition when the enormous challenges at hand require a holistic and multilateral approach.” Only if FAO and the other international organisations adopt and implement “a synergy of consensual and far-sighted thinking on the part of all the actors concerned,” the Pope said, will they be effective in fulfilling their mandate.

This requires, he said, governments, businesses, academia, international institutions, civil society and individuals making “a joint effort” and “leaving aside petty logic and biased visions, so that everyone benefits, and no one is left behind.”

Serious violations of human dignity The Pope decried that millions of people worldwide continue to suffer from malnutrition, citing armed conflict and climate change, with its resulting natural disasters, as key culprits.

“Mass displacement, along with other effects of global political, economic and military tensions,” he said, “undermine efforts to ensure that people’s living conditions are improved on the basis of their inherent dignity.”

“It bears repeating time and again: poverty, inequalities, lack of access to basic resources such as food, drinking water, health, education, housing, are a serious offence to human dignity!”

For this reason, the Pope insisted, interventions and projects must be planned and implemented in response to people and their communities’ demands, which are not “imposed from above” nor “seeking their own interests” or “profit.”

Well, some good-spirited individuals like Aliko Dangote and the Musical maestro Burna Boy have begun the distribution of food commodities freely to the poorest of the poor.

A recent report revealed that the Dangote Foundation, led by the renowned businessman, Aliko Dangote, has donated a significant sum of N15 billion ($10 million) towards addressing the food crises in Nigeria. Through the distribution of one million bags of rice, the foundation aims to support vulnerable populations across the country during a period of economic hardship and fasting for the Muslim community. This initiative demonstrates a commitment to compassion and solidarity, transcending boundaries of state, tribe, religion, and politics to provide essential aid to those in need.

Dangote Foundation says the donation of one million bags of rice signifies a crucial step in alleviating the food crises in Nigeria, especially during a time of economic difficulty. The program’s broad reach across all local government areas highlights the foundation’s commitment to addressing hunger on a national scale.

The Dangote Foundation’s ongoing commitment to philanthropy, as articulated by the Group Executive Director, shows a sustained effort to support impoverished Nigerians. The foundation’s history of impactful interventions, including daily food provision since the 1990s, reflects a long-standing dedication to humanitarian causes.

Also, Grammy Award-winning singer, Damini Ogulu, a.k.a Burna Boy and his team, on Wednesday, hit the streets of Port Harcourt, Rivers State, to share food items to residents. Burna Boy led the food-sharing exercise, alongside his mother, Bose Ogulu.

Now the exact reason poverty, hunger and widespread deprivation have all taken up residency in Nigeria is because of a lack of good governance which has become like a hydraheaded monster.

For a long time, Nigeria found crude oil in huge commercial quantities but the successive administrators of Nigeria have misused, misapplied and misappropriated the huge externally generated revenues and have warehoused most of these cash hauls into their family bank accounts offshore and in the acquisitions of assets globally thus allowing the majority of Nigeria to wallow in deprivation, poverty, mass hunger, unemployment and the country is facing a generally deteriorated standards of national infrastructures, just as insecurity has become highly intolerable with over 60,000 citizens killed in the last ten years by series of armed non-state actors and terrorists. Whereas millions of Nigerians are starving to near death, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission have seized back a trillion Naira worth of assets stolen by different politicians. The Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation under the government of Tinubu, Ms. Betta Edu, got suspended when a multi-billion Naira alleged scam was uncovered by the EFCC and for months now, there has been no decisive action by the government on the alleged corruption. Immediate past Kogi State governor, Alhaji Yahaya Bello, was accused of siphoning N80 billion from Kogi state’s public treasury but he refused to surrender to the EFCC for over two months and the EFCC recently accused the government of hiding the fugitive. So absence of good governance and unprecedented corruption are the twin evils that cause mass hunger and absolute poverty in Nigeria of today.

Government corruption started long ago as soon as crude oil resources were found in large quantities in Nigeria and the then head of state, General Gowon, gave us an insight into the indecisiveness that led to corruption in government.

When the crude oil resources were found in Nigeria, Yakubu Gowon, the then military despot, was quoted as stating that the Country had too much cash that it didn’t know what to do with it.

So, from then onwards, successive administrators have siphoned the bulk of the generated revenues from crude oil resources exported to the World’s market.

There is a general state of organised crimes in government offices both at the national and sub-national levels. Contrast the resource curse that Nigeria has faced due to official corruption to what the Brazilian politicians did when less than ten years ago, the same crude oil resources were found in commercial quantities in their country.

It was stated that the Brazilians voted to dedicate a huge chunk of the revenues from their crude oil wells to education and health and in that way, the well-being and welfare of Brazilians became uppermost. And by doing that, safeguard was introduced to stop massive corruption in Brazil.

In 2013, a foreign news agency AP reported that Brazil’s president had signed into law a measure that reserves 75 percent of new oil royalties from a massive offshore fund for education.

The bill signed by President Dilma Rousseff on Monday also earmarks 25 percent of royalties from the so-called “pre-salt” funds for improving health care.

The oil reserve off Brazil’s southeastern coast could contain up to 100 billion barrels of oil, making it the biggest find in the Western Hemisphere in decades.

The government estimates the total earmarked for education and health care could add up to $49 billion during the next decade.

The measure had been stuck in Congress, but it gained new impetus after widespread anti-government protests in June. They called for quick improvements to Brazil’s public services, including schools and hospitals.

What governments at all levels have continued to do in Nigeria by abusing the good governance standards can be likened to what Peters A stated in his piece titled: “Corruption and human rights, working paper series, No. 20, Basel Institute on Governance.

He wrote thus: “Because corruption is the antithesis to the rule of law, and because the rule of law, in turn, is a necessary condition for the respect of human rights, then corruption-in a very general sense constitutes the negation of the idea of human rights.”

Kirya (n.d.) views corruption as “the abuse of entrusted power for private gain”, which in large pertains to the “embezzlement or diversion of school funds” that restrict and deprive schools of the necessary resources and in turn teaches incorporate corruption as normalcy at “all levels of society”.

Further, the regularity of corruption in schools and universities is dangerous as it produces acceptance of this behaviour at an early age (Kirya, n.d.). Campbell suggests that the long period of military rule “blighted education” between 1967 to 1998 as many government officials “viewed educators, especially at universities, as potential opposition” and universities faced a lack of funding during the “restoration of civilian government in 1999” (Campbell, 2018). What can be decoded from these aforementioned submissions is that government officials, in the last six decades, destroyed the educational sector for fear that high standards of education within Nigeria wouldn’t let corruption thrive in government.

Lastly, my take is that, for as long as the over 133 million absolutely poor people in Nigeria are satisfied with queueing up for food handouts from the likes of Dangotes, Burna Boy or contented with collecting N25,000 pocket money from the conditional cash transfer that the corrupt ruling elite offer to the poor, then poverty, hunger and deprivation will continue.

The truth is that World Bank which has just dolled out a $2.25 billion loan to Nigeria that has borrowed over $40 billion and frittered away, there may be no end to bad economic measures that will continue to push more Nigerians into mass hunger because the creditor will continue to impose stringent conditionality for repayment such as fiscal measures that include higher taxes, the poorest of the poor will continue to cascade into the abyss of mass degradation and absolute dehumanisation.

The ball is in the court of Nigerians to actively resist government corruption and insist on good governance all the time. Citizens shouldn’t enable corruption by accepting bribes for votes and by not speaking out when politicians rob the nation of her commonwealth, buy up exotic assets that are known to some commoners who simply visit these thieving elites to collect palliatives. If you see something, say something, dear common people of Nigeria.

The natural resources of Nigeria should be sources of blessing and not a curse for the very reason that the revenues generated from the exportation of these resources are stolen and hidden by government officials.


**** Written by Emmanuel Onwubiko, head of the Human Rights Writers Association Of Nigeria and was the National Commissioner Of the National Human Rights Commission Of Nigeria.

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