Against stupidity, [especially official], the gods themselves struggle in vain—Fredrick Schiller, 1759-1805. VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTES, p 235.
ON Tuesday, November 15, 2016, several Nigerian news media carried the news of the Presidency raising alarm over imminent famine in Nigeria by January 2017 – which is a mere five weeks away. In fact, the word used was “Nigerians should brace themselves”.
In other words, the Federal Government of Nigeria, which was voted into power eighteen months ago, promising to provide free food for millions of kids and give free money to unemployed millions is now saying that it cannot and will not be able to provide the basic necessity of life, which is food, to the citizens of Nigeria.
The people have been cast adrift and left at the mercy of inhuman fate. That is not only a betrayal of trust, it is merciless and selfish. Merciless and selfish because our current rulers will not suffer the pangs of hunger for which they have urged the masses to brace themselves. The watering and eating places of Aso Rock will still be supplied with food even if there is only one bag of rice and ten tubers of yam left in Nigeria. That is certain.
Just as certain is the fact that from the tone of the announcement government has no plan to avert the imminent disaster; nor is it in a hurry to develop one. According to the spokesman, “Over the past year, providence has blessed Nigeria with bountiful harvests of grains, more than enough to feed the country and to export to other countries.” If that is true, what is the cause for alarm? And, why now? The answers will be shocking to most Nigerians.
First, the statement credited to the spokesman of the Presidency, based on advice from the Ministry of Agriculture, is pure drivel and untrue. Unless rice and wheat are no longer classified as grains, then the Ministry of Agriculture should tell us why we still spend so much to import smuggled rice and wheat? In fact, a total ban on the import of rice and wheat, if fully enforced, will result in instant famine which our so called bountiful harvests will not prevent even if not a single grain is exported from Nigeria.
For all the noise about great harvests, Nigeria is still an import-dependent nation with respect to food and one of the reasons for imminent famine is scarcity of dollars to import and smuggle rice, wheat, vegetable oil and fish as well as inputs for local food processing. The tomato puree processor who left is an example which can be multiplied a thousand times.
Furthermore, the Ministry of Agriculture was reported to have said that 500 trucks laden with grains were leaving Nigerian markets every week for other countries. One is constrained to ask if 500 trucks of grains every week from Nigeria is what Brazilians and Algerians are relying on to stave off famine in their countries when that volume cannot last more than eight hours in various markets in Lagos State alone. Obviously, the fallacy of bountiful harvests is self-deceptive and should stop.
What then are the facts which the Ministry of Agriculture is trying to conceal by sending a spurious message to the Presidency to mask its own failure?
Start with the belated solution the government itself had proposed. Buhari, we were told had ordered the Ministry of Agriculture to present a quick plan for the purchase of the surplus grains to be stored in warehouses across the country to save for the rainy day. The rainy day is already here and the warehouses are empty. Furthermore, that announcement amounts to closing the gate after the cows have fled. The grains that have been exported are gone forever.
In addition, while the Ministry of Agriculture is busy developing its “plan”, those who need the grains and who have ready cash would have speeded up their purchases and instead of 500 trucks up to 700 or 1000 trucks will disappear into the global grain market. By the time government is ready to but, the market might be empty. The public sector can never match the private sector for speed when a scarce commodity is up for grabs.
This is war by other means, a war for the survival of millions of Nigerians. The exporters and their clients are on one side and Nigerians are on the other side. And our Commander-In-Chief had just told the enemies how he intended to prosecute the war. Are they expected to sit and wait to be denied access to the food items they need while we develop our plans to check them?
At any rate, personal experience had demonstrated that warehousing grains, especially in silos, is not something to be rushed. Otherwise, the grains might be stored for rodents and pests. Furthermore, accountability will constitute a major problem. Without adequate controls, we are just opening another avenue for corrupt practices and creating more work for Senate Committees and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.
It is an axiom of economics and one eternally proved that anything that has value will sooner or later be stolen. Grains in January, February and up to June of 2017 will be extremely valuable; there is no reason to believe that merely warehousing any quantity will make them available on the so called rainy day.
Our history, past and present, demonstrates that a lot of it would have been diverted and stolen; and would never reach the intended recipients. What happened to items intended for Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs, recently illustrates what would happen if we rush into purchase and warehousing of food items to hold for the so called rainy day without first installing control systems.
All those are, however, minor issues compared to the major fact why famine might be inevitable early next year. On account of incessant attacks by herdsmen, planting of grains and tubers have been disrupted in several parts of Nigeria. Benue state, justifiably one of the nation’s food baskets had suffered unprecedented disruption of farming this year. My trip to Agatu, following the sack of that farming community revealed that thousands of farmers were reluctant to go to farm for fear of attacks.