Sign of Hunger
By Mike Akpati
July begins the second half of any year. That presupposes that we are already in the middle of the year 2015. Thank God for those of us hale and hardy (many are facing unwarranted health, financial and other forms of economic hazards now), it can only be by the grace of the same God else given the way things are, it could have been worse. I was prompted to do this piece today because of what I experienced a few days ago in and around my neighbourhood. It became a quick reminder of what is happening around, and an indication that all really is not well with us in Nigeria here almost three clear months after the much celebrated electoral success of the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC). Is it that they were not prepared for the much orchestrated success? What really were supposed to be the components of the change mantra?
Changes in government are not a new phenomenon in Nigeria. We have seen only stability in the past sixteen years else, the frequency of change of government before then was almost as regular as the changing of clothes and the associate perks are known and common too. Why is this government different?
For the records, immediately after the over throw of General Yakubu Gowon as Head of State, the then Supreme Military Council (SMC), with executive fiat suspended the country’s constitution and 2removed all the military Officers in the various arms of government then replaced them with their choice Officers. The government of General Muritala Muhammed then went ahead to alleviate the suffering of the masses as a sign of good things to come, they cleared the Sea Ports which was then overcrowded with Vessels incurring demurrage and encouraging sharp practices, introduced the price control etc. That government was short lived and over thrown. Buhari/Idiagbon regime was heralded by the people at the height of the corrupt government of Shagari. Immediately too, they replaced the officers in the helm of affairs with the previous leadership. They introduced zero tolerance to corruption in addition to War Against Indiscipline (WAI) the public had a good period respite before General Ibrahim Babangida
Took over. That government also in answer to the yearning of the people did not waste time before dissolving the International Monetary Fund debate, release of the Journalist and politicians jailed; Alhaji M.K.O. Abiola’s would have been government had Rice and many commodities just around the corner awaiting his declaration as winner of his election in 1993 before the dream was aborted. Abacha was involved in poverty palliation immediately he rose to office to douse the dull drum that was the order before his arrival. Oh! Obasanjo was welcomed with open hand by even dead people if anything for heralding Democracy. On and on it went, but here we are, dry of any idea of the direction of the country. The only thing we are certain about is that the party in power is in a battle with itself!
Away from the intrigues of governance which the APC is currently denying Nigerians courtesy of their self-inflicted wounds, one issue that is criminally very visible now is that we are all very hungry in the country. Hungry as in having Garri and Cray-fish on the table of many. The suffering of the poor has quadrupled since these few months of the new government.
I am no longer interested in the Boko Haram war because it has proved that we are here at home with it. The only very viable thing to think about it is that everyone must be weary because sooner than later, they may knock at your neighborhood! We do not have the where withal to fight it and any nation promising to help can only provide half measure as they too, have their own challenges.
In 2011 when the war was still fresh, this writer suggested the building of walls around Nigeria as seen of the Chinese great wall or the one that separated the then East and West Germany. Then, some very intelligent opinion leaders thought that the project would be too expensive. If it had been started then, by now, we would have been able to effectively shield ourselves of the national embarrassments. Now, our governments and party men are talking with two sides of their mouth, even eating their words. Only one word is suitable for such – Shame!
The subject matter of this piece is hunger. There is hunger in the land and there is no pretense about it. If it is not steering you in the face, oh, you must be living in the moon not Nigeria.
For a brief rider, I was with a Pastor friend on 7th July 2015 at about 2.30pm in his school. My friend whose Church doubles as school during the week with him as the Proprietor, was approached by two pupils of about 4/6 years of age. The children were crying. Since it was time to close, my friend thought that the parents had failed to show up and so called them into his office. But they were still crying and this prompted him to ask what the problem was. The children busted out in unison “…we are hungry we did not eat at home in the morning because there is no food.” Together with my friend we decided to give them small assistance by providing snacks. Shortly after, their mother arrived to pick them. Prompted by the proprietor to know what was amiss, the woman busted out crying and in tears told us that there was no food at home. She had not had food from the previous night with the kids, and would be going back home with them not knowing what to do. Already, the proprietor was having the challenge of their school fees to grapple with, just as he was on fund drive to pay staff salaries. But here he was with realities steering him in the face. This is but one case of the millions across the entire country. The verdict that there is hunger in the land. Hunger does not know politics. It does not know tribe. It has no religious colorations. Does not speak in any language nor does it listen to any plea. Not even the Ninjas or Judokas’ in the National Assembly irrespective of which side of the divide you are can quench it. When it visits you, only one solution is fitting – that is to eat something else, the enzymes will carry placard to announce “we are hungry, we are hungry!” In time past, Nigerians would readily defend the saying that “hunger nor de kill person” that was true until APC arrived with the Change mantra. Now, hunger kills and in hundreds and it has been doubling to finish our people in the Boko Haram war torn North East first and is gradually arriving home to most families in every nook and corner of Nigeria. Does President Buhari have the antidote? He is also waiting for the National Assembly and the ministers to cushion the effect of hunger? Is there nothing good to learn from the fallen PDP? Not even the agricultural revolution? No! I don’t believe it.
By 2011 when former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan took over properly his staff of office, one very critical sector he embarked upon for his “Transformation Agenda” was agriculture and food sufficiency. To achieve his feat, he gunned for the best brain yet in the field and found the person of Dr Akinwumi Adesina most fitting. The relationship became that of need meeting want and so it did not take long before the later got an almost blank cheque to implement his developed blue print.
Knowing that he had a very short time to prove himself, he carried his mettlesome knack to the field. He established “…The Growth Enhancement Support (GES) Scheme which he masterminded to ensured that small holder farmers in Nigeria have access to agricultural inputs like fertilizers, seeds as well as agro-chemicals. The results over the last four years was breathtaking. Nigeria’s Food Import Bill dropped from ₦1.1 trillion to ₦635 billion between 2011 and 2013. Indeed, by year end 2014, the country’s food import bill had declined by a whopping 73 per cent, thereby helping to stave off the impact of the global oil slump.” What was the outcome of the four years programme? Food sufficiency. Nigeria and Nigerians for the first time in forty years since the military bastadised the economy, had decline not only in price of food items but also in the importation of food and allied products! It was Ralph Waldo who said that “… Envy is ignorance.” Instead of immediately approving the continuous activity of the man with noble intention, he was quickly handed the President of African Development Bank (AfDB). No shaking whose best is served in losing him to Africa when we are still hungry at home? Wicked politicians! I agree that we need to populate the continent with our ever increasing bank of knowledgeable fellows. But how does that serve us better when we are ONION, providing sweet scent to the outsiders but with empty pots at home.
How did that translate to food on our tables? In 2014 in particular, Nigerians experienced steady decline in price of food items climaxing in reduction in December 2014, a situation that showed the price of Rice which was N10,500.00 in September 2014 to N8,000.00 in December – a typical period price of the same commodity was supposed to rise about N15,000.00 given the customary trend. That was the only time Nigerians had crash in everything food! First in maybe forty years! We are experiencing a reversal now and no hiding the truth.
Dr. Adesina, “In terms of impact of the Agricultural Transformation Agenda, therefore, there is proper documentation. AgroNigeria recently commissioned an independent review of the dramatic sectoral changes (soon to be published) and the preliminary findings go to show that by reason of over 21 million metric tonnes of food produced over a three-year period, Nigeria has been able to weather the impact of a global slump in oil prices. Today, across the value chain, the ATA has stimulated job creation to an increased level of 274% when considering that as at 2011, the total jobs created in the agricultural sector stood at 517,949, compared with the 3,598,529 existing by year end 2014… little wonder that the Nigerian (former) agriculture minister has continued to bag recognition both at home and abroad. The recent conferment of a Honorary Doctorate Degree in Agriculture on Dr. Adesina by Purdue University – the first since 1826 – in recognition of his global leadership in fighting poverty through innovative agricultural policies, speaks to his competence…His innovative programs like the E-wallet system which directly gives farmers access to farm inputs through their mobile phones have impacted on the lives of 14.5 million farmers over the last four years… Dr. Adesina’s record speaks for itself. The last four years have been “golden” for Nigerian agriculture and having done nothing else than report on the agricultural sector for a decade now…”
If the above scenario was our circumstance just months ago why the reversal? Was the Change we expect not to give any succor to the people? Must we die waiting for food in queues like pensioners denied their rights? His writer agrees that here is decay but disagrees with the change mantra that insists that all the evils of the country was caused by the last government and it will be foolish for anyone to hold such view. The decay within us was the reason for the first coup and change of government; it remained the singular reason all subsequent military governments toppled themselves until we arrived democracy. Obasanjo’s government popularized the public show of art of gratification and in fact caused to be brought to the floor of the Senate, Fifty Million Naira bribe money! Yet even he, could not permanently bring to book the sinning offenders. Alhaji Samiu Turaki was the Governor of Jigawa State. He was accused of misappropriating billions of Naira shortly after his government. What has become of the case with EFCC? The list is longer than anyone can think. The corruption of the last administration is therefore not a good reason why we cannot have food on our tables while the executives are fighting their battles.
I was on the way to my village from Benin City then Bendel state on December 31, 1983 when the regime of General Buhari took power in a bloodless coup. For better part of that day, all we had was Marshal Music from our Television and Radio sets. Private news had it that the then Head of State was being flown from Maiduguri to Dodan Barracks to take over. Immediately that was done, within three days, and swiftly too, appointments of new Military Governors and other public officers were made public. These was possible because the Supreme Military Council then, had finished their ground works before coming to the public. Why are we not having the same element of swiftness or something near it with the same man on the saddle today?
Arguments abound for and against the seating President Muhammadu Buhari’s Party the APC approach to governance. This is not the concern of this writer for now. It matters that while we wait for the obvious increase or decline in method because we have the indices to measure their performance, we should have food on our tables at affordable price. This is the first agreement the leadership entered into with Nigerians and failure to deliver on this will create unprecedented failure. Let everyone be mindful of this, that while the battle of their greed and selfishness continues, we are in desperate need of food. We are hungry. It is not about the doctrine of APC or PDP or even the future political party that is already being wished in some quarters. Hunger has no doctrine and no creed. It understands only one language feed! This must be drummed into the ears of all concerned as the struggle continues.
Mike Akpati Ph.D