Some Food for Thought for Nigeria

Anthony Akaeze
Anthony Akaeze

By Anthony Akaeze

On the morning of October 14, I woke up from sleep to see an email message from the International Land Coalition (ILC) asking whether I was “free for lunch on #WorldFoodDay?” ILC isn’t  unknown to me. In 2018, I participated in a land rights workshop in Uganda organized by the organization in collaboration with the African Centre for Media Excellence. The question posed, luring as it was, was a decoy, as, reading the mail further, I got the real message: I was being invited to join online, “the regional discussions on strengthening and transforming local and global food systems,” on World Food Day, October 16.

The email message, in its own way, reminds one of the indispensable value of food in human and animal life. Food ranks first on the list of essentials for man and animal.

Living things that they are, man and animal need food to survive, to be active, happy and hopeful. The reverse is gloom or doom as starvation could lead to death. Anyone who has ever experienced hunger, arising from perhaps, a lack of money, with no hope of salvaging the situation, knows what danger he is faced with. Such a person, desirous to save himself, may, if unrestrained by self or others, as one has heard over the years, cross the line of acceptable behavior.

Growing up in my country, Nigeria, I heard or read stories about the Nigeria-Biafra war and how hunger was a dominant theme of the conflict. As the war, which broke out as a result of the resolve of the Igbo people of Eastern region led by Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, to secede from Nigeria and create a Biafra republic, progressed, food soon became a scarce commodity in Biafran communities and towns.

So bad was the situation that the shortage of food in people’s homes, which allegedly worsened with the blockade to the Eastern region sanctioned by the Nigerian government that cut off or made food distribution to the area from outside difficult in the face of conflict, began leaving visible signs on them, particularly young children. Hence the images of malnourished or Kwashiorkor afflicted children that soon began to emerge from camps and homes in the region. The gory sights of famished children with protruding bellies and feeble limbs, compare, in ghoulish terms, to the picture of starving lions in Sudan that appeared on the Internet months ago that attracted global attention and effort to save them from death by concerned persons and animal rights groups. In respect to the Nigeria-Biafra war, by the time the conflict was over, following the surrender of Biafra, an estimated 2 million lives had been lost, many due to starvation.

The stories of the Biafra war, believable as they are, often seem distant to me, having not personally witnessed it but even with the challenges of everyday life in Nigeria, I never could imagine that food scarcity and starvation could reoccur in the country in the scale it has over the last couple of years.

Nigeria, since the end of its civil war, has witnessed all manner of ethno-religious and political crisis, but none, as much as I can remember, left in its wake, starvation and misery as the country came to be associated with this past decade. It began once the Nigerian government failed to annihilate a religious sect that questioned its authority in Maiduguri, capital of Borno State, and a few other places in 2009 when it waged an onslaught against defenseless citizens, leading to the death of many. The reprisal by the Nigerian military and police, initially thought to be decisive, proved less so, as scattered members of the group soon linked up and began to unleash terror on Nigerians. It started gradually, then persistently with bombings at crowded areas and religious centers. Then kidnappings, raiding and beheadings as trademark features of its campaign of terror. Boko Haram’s free reign in the north east led to the death or displacement of thousands of people, leading to hunger and misery for many of them. For the first time in my life, I read about internally displaced persons camps springing up simultaneously in some Nigerian states and the federal capital territory, Abuja. It was different from isolated cases of IDPs one had heard or read, for instance, of Nigerians in Bakassi whose land were ceded to Cameroun after a World Court ruling to that effect in 2002. According to a 2019 UNHCR report, “years into the crisis in north-eastern Nigeria, some 244,000 refugees are living either in camps or with host communities in Niger (120,000), Cameroun(108,000) and Chad (16,000). The ongoing conflict has also resulted in the internal displacement of more than 2.5 million people in the Lake Chad Basin, including almost 2 million people in Nigeria…”

Taking shelter in the camps, many inhabitants reportedly grapple with deprivation and hunger as food and relief supplies from local and foreign NGOS and Nigerian agencies doesn’t always go round.

A report by Action Against Hunger, a humanitarian organization, reveals that “After more than a decade of conflict, the humanitarian crisis in Northeastern Nigeria remains one of the most serious in the world. In 2019, the security situation worsened, and risks for humanitarian workers increased.” It adds that “across the three crisis-affected states of Borno, Jigawa and Yobe, 7.9 million people – out of a total population of 13 million – will need humanitarian assistance in 2020, representing an 11% increase from 2019, primarily due to rising violence and insecurity. The number of food-insecure people increased to 3.8 million and 1.1 million women and children are in need of immediate nutrition services or treatment for malnutrition. It is estimated that more than 1.2 million people, including 971,000 in Borno State and 244,000 in Yobe State, are in areas that are inaccessible to international humanitarian organizations.”

Aside from the north east where Boko Haram is active, many Nigerians in different parts of the country live each day without knowing where their next meal will come from. This is so as they have little or no means of livelihood, and their situation is worsened by the paucity of safety nets like food banks for the people. Nigeria’s unemployment crisis is one of the worst in the world, a terrible indictment of the country’s leadership in past and present times. This failing, over the years, leads to bitterness, recrimination and a rise in crime rate among the youth in particular, who make up a large chunk of the victims.

Whether a victim of Boko Haram or failure of government to provide employment opportunities for the youths (some people lay the blame for the emergence and sustenance of Boko Haram on the government  as the terrorist group is dominated by idle youth), no human being should go to bed hungry. That this has been the fate of millions of Nigerians for long is a sore point of its existence and a disturbing reminder of the failure of leadership in the country. Though Africa’s most populous country Nigeria is not the only place where people were displaced from their homes as a result of war or natural disasters, or the only country with a disturbing rate of unemployment, as the United Nations World Food Programme asserts that “almost 700 million people are chronically hungry across the world,” the dismal figures in Nigeria, a country of approximately 200 million where “more than half of the country lives below the poverty line, and northern Nigeria suffers the world’s third highest level of chronic undernutrition among children,” according to the Action Against Hunger, speak volumes about the performance of those entrusted with the country’s destiny in past and present times. They will do well to begin to reverse the trend.

Anthony Akaeze, an award-winning freelance investigative journalist, is an author of four books. He is currently working on a new book with the tentative title, “Where Strangers Dwell,” a story of hope, pain, accomplishments, migration, love and discovery.

– Oct. 18 2020 @ 14:05 GMT |

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