By Owei Lakemfa
As a Nigerian, I worry a lot about the army of beggars and the hungry on the streets. I reflect a lot on the saying that if the poor have nothing to eat, they will eat the rich. I reason that hunger is a major feeder of the growing army of kidnappers, bandits and terrorists.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation, FAO, lists Nigeria as one of the 37 countries in the world in need of external food assistance. It says that 2.3 million people in the three states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe that are in the epicentre of the Boko Haram insurgency, faced acute food shortages. That 13 million of my fellow countrymen suffer from hunger.
One of the FAO’s main advice is that in order to stem the ever-rising floods of hunger, Nigeria should encourage international steps to restore Lake Chad, which used to support 2.6 million farmers, livestock rearers and fishermen.
The United Nations this year said three million persons in the three Boko Haram-ravaged states needed urgent food assistance in the three months of June, July and August. This same number of persons needed food assistance in 2018. Since May 2015, the World Food Programme, WFP, has been supporting the displaced in order to shield them against starvation.
In 2018, with 87 million Nigerians living below $2 per day, Nigeria overtook India as the capital of world poverty. We have additional worries as one-third of children under five are stunted due to undernourishment. Outside this, 5.1 million Nigerians are malnourished.
Also, the Action Against Hunger, AAH, provides clinics in the country to reduce hunger and malnourishment, especially amongst children, nursing mothers and pregnant women.
On its part, the International Committee of the Red Cross has been at war to reduce hunger in Nigeria, saying that in 2017, it assisted over one million Nigerians against hunger. In 2018, the then Minister of State for Agriculture, Mr. Heineken Lokpobiri, stated that Nigeria annually imports $22 billion worth of food.
With such grim statistics and their obvious implications, you can imagine my relief when our Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Alhaji Mohammed Sabo Nanono declared on October 14, that there is no hunger in Nigeria, that we not only have enough food to feed ourselves, but will soon start exporting food to other countries!
The 73-year-old minister, speaking at a press conference to mark the World Food Day, told Nigerians: “I think we are producing enough to feed ourselves. I think there is no hunger in Nigeria; there could be inconveniences.” To him, the talk of hunger in the land is a joke: “ When people talk about hunger in this country, I just laugh because they don’t know hunger. You need to go to some other countries to know what hunger is.”
He hinted that every Nigerian eats three square meals a day: “If you say I miss my breakfast and I get lunch and dinner, then that is all right…”. To him, the availability of so much food “ is part of the problem of overweight, not necessarily the issue of a balanced diet…”.
This must be music not only to the ears of millions of Nigerians, but also, I think, to those of President Muhammadu Buhari who I suspect was unaware of this situation. I say so because just three weeks before Minister Sanono made this earth shaking revelation, the President was talking about tackling extreme hunger in Nigeria. In September in New York at the Nigeria high-level side-event at the United Nations General Assembly, he delivered a keynote address on “SDG Integration – Bridging the Policy Planning – Budgeting Gap for the Achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.”
In this address, President Buhari said: “Excellencies, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, I am aware from official statistics that approximately 54 percent of Nigerians live below the poverty line as defined by World Bank. It is pertinent to state that reducing extreme poverty and hunger is one of the cardinal objectives of our administration.” How could the President have been talking about reducing “extreme” hunger if there is no hunger in the country?
If President Buhari admits that over 100 million of our estimated 200 million population live below the poverty line, is it possible to claim as Pa Sanono does, that there is no hunger in the land? I ask because I know poverty causes hunger; that hunger is a by-product of poverty.
The UN’s Economic and Social Council describes human poverty as: “… a denial of choices and opportunities, a violation of human dignity. It means lack of basic capacity to participate effectively in society. It means not having enough to feed and clothe”
At this point, I need to very careful because Minister Sanono is highly cerebral having graduated from the Ahmadu Bello University 47 years ago with a second Class Upper Division, and the University of Wisconsin, Madison, United States in 1977 with a Masters in Public Policy and Administration, specialising in Development Economics. Therefore, I wish to clarify that not all poor people are necessarily hungry, but if being hungry is not by choice, such as fasting, all hungry people are poor. So, while hunger is a clear manifestation of poverty, poverty does not necessarily mean hunger. So, Minister Sanono might argue that none of the over 100 million Nigerians living under the poverty line is hungry, therefore, there is no hunger in Nigeria. But let us consider this. If the current National Minimum Wage is N18,000 and the nuclei family is a worker, spouse and four children; that is an average N3,000 per person. That translates to N100 per person per day. If all they spend the salary on is food, you cannot get a meal for N100. That means in the household of the Nigerian worker on minimum wage, there is nothing but hunger all year round.
Assuming the Federal and state governments begin to pay the newly negotiated National Minimum Wage of N30,000, that means an average of N5,000 per member of the nuclei family of six. If all the money goes for food, each member would have an average N166.7 for a whole day’s meal; that means starvation for all family members.
What is obvious is that Minister Sanono and the tiny group that sit and take from the table, assume that the crumbs falling to the masses below are so much, that none is hungry in the land; in fact, that the aroma from the kitchen is enough to fill the stomach of the hungry. On the other hand, the Minister in claiming there is no hunger in the land might be implying that our leaders eat through the throats of the people.