By Aare Afe Babalola, SAN, OFR, CON
In previous editions, much of the emphasis had been on the origin of poverty in Nigeria and the effect of the discovery of oil deposits which, unwittingly, contributed to the divergent class system which we have in Nigeria today – with a wide disparity between the rich and the poor.
No doubt, poverty has gruelling consequences on the citizenry and, perhaps, the most noticeable effect of poverty is hunger. Therefore, in this edition, I will round off this series by discussing the unnerving relationship between poverty, hunger and insecurity, with specific reference to how it affects a great percentage of the Nigerian populace.
The 2020 European Union Global Report on Food Crises ranks Nigeria in the list of the worlds’ 10 hungriest countries. By the Report, Nigeria which ranks besides several war-torn countries such as Yemen, Afghanistan and South Sudan, suffers from “serious” acute hunger and undernutrition. The heart-rendering reality of this report is particularly brought to shore when one considers that Nigeria is a country blessed with vast natural and human resources. In graphical terms, Nigerians are living beside the ocean and, regardless, washing their hands with spittle.
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The incidence of Nigeria’s food insecurity: The peculiarity of Nigeria’s hunger situation is against the backdrop of a systemic rise in the disparity between the rich and poor in society. Other factors responsible for hunger is insecurity. While the highly protected rich have more than enough to fill their bloated bellies, the insecure poor are forced to beg for scraps. Generally, the effects of hunger in Nigeria is reflected in the following statistics – one-third of Nigerian children under the age of five are stunted; over 5.1 million internally displaced Nigerians are malnourished; in Borno State alone, 64.2 per cent of households are food insecure; approximately 400,000 children under five in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states were declared to be at risk of severe acute malnutrition in 2016; 55 per cent of female-headed households in North-Eastern Nigerian states are food insecure; out of the about 17 million people living in regions affected by Boko Haram insurgency, 11 million are in need of humanitarian aid for food, water and shelter.
There is an inextricable link between poverty, food prices, food insecurity and hunger. While poverty causes hunger, not every person living in poverty faces chronic hunger; but almost all people facing chronic hunger are also living in poverty. Generally, poverty is considered as living below an average income of $1 per day. Naturally, households which earn less than $1 per day will expend most of their incomes on feeding. However, the high level of food insecurity in Nigeria, especially in the last four decades, is a function of the neglect in food production when oil became the major export product.
It is equally attributable to the adoption of neo-liberal economic policies such as the devaluation of naira and trade liberalization, as well as ethnic and religious conflicts. Unfortunately, most of the food need in Nigeria is produced by peasant farmers who lack capital, skills, government support, energy and other viable ingredients to produce in large quantities to meet the requirement of the ever-growing population.
Furthermore, frequent policy changes and poor performance of agencies assigned to implement food and agriculture policies have dire implications on food production and distribution in Nigeria. With each change in government, the previous agricultural policies and programmes are abandoned and new ones are put in place, not because the new ones are better than the old – but all in a bid to siphon money. This creates no room for stability and progress in food production.
Similarly, the dismal performance of some of the past programmes like Operation Feed the Nation, Green Revolution, Lower River Basin Development Authorities as well as agencies like National Agricultural and Land Development Authority, NALDA, and the Directorate of Foods, Roads and Rural Infrastructure, DFRRI, have contributed to low agricultural and food production in Nigeria.
Nigeria currently has a population of over 200 million people, thereby making it the most populous country in Africa and the most populous black nation in the world. The situation of food security is at an all-time high and in addition to the causes already identified above, the situation is further worsened as importers of food items struggle to gain access to dollars due to scarcity of foreign exchange which is triggered by the crash in oil prices and the recent directive by the President to the Central Bank of Nigeria to stop allocating foreign exchange to importers of food items.
National insecurity as a cause of poverty and hunger: Perhaps the most impactful cause of hunger in Nigeria is national insecurity and ethnocentric armed conflicts. Conventionally, the threshold required to classify an armed conflict as a civil war is to record 1,000 battle deaths. The number of deaths associated with Boko Haram terrorist group alone between 2011 and 2018 is over 35,000 deaths. Apart from Boko Haram, other sources of armed conflicts include inter-community conflicts, herders-farmers’ conflicts, clashes between socio-cultural and religious groups, etc.
Worthy of note, also, is the menace of the herdsmen whose nomadic nature and transhumance tradition which has often pitted them against sedentary farmers as a result of the destruction of the farmers’ crops. Since 2014, herders have been responsible for various forms of attacks, especially ransom kidnappings and militia expeditions against farming communities considered antagonistic to their herding and pasturing activities. The nonchalance of the Nigerian government despite the international classification of these herders as terrorists seems to have emboldened these herders who now wield automatic rifles and assorted ammunition in their nefarious escapades.
Insecurity in Nigeria has a serious negative impact on farming communities as it prevents them from engaging in crop production at optimal levels. Agricultural activities in North-Eastern Nigeria is completely suspended as a result of the terrorist activities of the Boko Haram group in that geopolitical zone. The devastation which the activities of Boko Haram has caused is not only obvious but also far-reaching in its impact on agriculture. The displacement of farming communities as a result of attacks by armed groups, criminal violence and banditry is associated with an alarming rise in food insecurity.
Recently, in a BBC report titled “Dozens of farmworkers killed in ‘insane’ Nigeria attack”, it was reported that more than 43 agricultural labourers working in rice fields were slaughtered in Borno State; while six were reported to be seriously wounded and 15 women kidnapped. The CNN, however, stated that the number was 110. In other news, bandits now demand outrageous sums of money as “tax” and “harvest fees” from Northern farmers in order to avoid attacks. The consequence is that many of these farmers have stopped going to their farmlands for fear of being kidnapped or killed. Bandits now determine whether farmers would work on the farmlands, and by extension, whether there will be food production for the populace.
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With national insecurity making it impossible for farmers to engage in their farm activities, food shortages will result. As food shortages result, it will create disaffection, which in turn spawns a new round of insecurity due to the intensification of food crisis and mass reaction to it. Thus, there would be constant insecurity caused by the interplay of national insecurity and food insecurity.
Conclusion: With the afore-highlighted interplay between insecurity, poverty and hunger, there is an urgent need to revitalise the agricultural sector as the solution to Nigeria’s poverty crises. In order to exit Nigeria’s poverty capital status, there must be a steady committal of substantial budgetary allocations towards the holistic rejuvenation of the agricultural sector and the empowerment of its active players.
This will, no doubt, encourage other enthusiasts to venture into agriculture on a large-scale basis which, by extension, will reduce the poverty gap in the nation. However, the return to agriculture will not thrive if the sector is not repositioned to urgently deal with insecurity that characterises the farming communities.
There is a far-reaching implication on Nigeria’s security architecture if food insecurity is not reversed and resolved. An author once noted that food insecurity can create national insecurity or be a consequence of national insecurity. Food insecurity and hunger can trigger agitations, which could create a security crisis that undermines national security. This vicious cycle may go on and on and produce a complex security situation that could ultimately undermine the existence of Nigeria as a nation.
Vanguard News Nigeria
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