By Jide Ojo
There is no gainsaying that Nigeria is seriously challenged. It is obvious, isn’t it? However, the greatest threat to national stability today is food security. By way of definition, food security is the state of having reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food. The family menu is fast disappearing. Juju music icon, Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey, in one of his classic albums released in the late 1980s said Nigerians were using formula to eat. He sang about various eating formula such as 0-0-1, 0-1-0, 1-0-0, 1-0-1 and many others. The 1 in those numerals represents the meals families eat per day out of the three they are supposed to eat. True, in many homes, particularly, among the majority poor Nigerians, hardly will one see those who are having 1-1-1 which represents three square meals per day. Food is a serious matter. It is said that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Hunger and starvation had precipitated revolution in many countries. History has it that one of the causes of the French Revolution (1789 – 1790) was as a result of the increase in the price of bread.
I have been very worried about the increasing food insecurity in Nigeria. Workers are not being paid as and when due, both in the public and private sectors. High inflation, (now at 16.5 per cent), downsizing and rightsizing of workforce are now rife, so also is non-absorption of teeming unemployed youths in any meaningful and gainful employment. Upon all, food prices have hit the rooftop. Expectedly, there is an exponential increase in crime rates. These are all threats to national security.
More directly, our agricultural sector which is primarily responsible for putting food on our table has been in the doldrums since the discovery of black gold which is crude oil in Oloibiri in the present day Bayelsa State about 1956. All the initiatives such as Operation Feed the Nation by the Olusegun Obasanjo military regime; the Green Revolution initiative of President Shehu Shagari, and similar ones by successive administrations have been more of lip service. As things stand, our choices are very limited as the crude oil which has been our mainstay since the 60s is no longer a money spinner as it used to be. This is because of the low price the commodity now commands in the international market. Despite that, the sabotage on oil and gas pipelines by vandals and militants in the Niger Delta has ensured that our 2.2mbpd OPEC quota upon which the 2016 national budget is based can no longer be met. This has gone a long way to threaten the full implementation of the 2016 Appropriation Act.
The fiendish activities of the pipeline vandals apart from being an economic sabotage are also a menace to food security. This is because of the environmental degradation such acts engendered. The eco-system is destroyed as the water gets polluted by the toxic crude oil spill. Concomitantly, the fishes, crabs, prawns and other aquatic lives get destroyed. Even the farmlands affected by oil spills become degraded and sterile for any agricultural cultivation. That is why I have been appealing to militant groups such as the Niger Delta Avengers to stop cutting their nose in order to spite their faces. While it is true that by blowing up oil and gas pipelines, government will lose revenue, however, they are further impoverishing their kith and kins who are engaged in agric- business as they will also suffer collateral damage of losing their means of livelihood. They should imagine how long it took the Federal Government to kick-start the clean-up of the devastated Ogoniland.
Another potent threat to food security is the desertification being experienced in Northern Nigeria. Hundreds of kilometres of landmass have been lost to desert encroachment, largely as a result of draught and other human factor such as indiscriminate felling of trees. This phenomenon largely precipitated the exodus of cattle herders from the core north to the Middle Belt and Southern Nigeria where they could get grass and water for their cattle. That migration has been a major source of conflict between farmers and cattle herders. There have been accusations and counter-accusations that cattle herders have been shepherding their cattle to graze on farmlands, a move the farmers have stoutly resisted. Disagreement over this issue has led to hundreds of deaths and destruction of property worth Billions of Naira in places like Benue and Enugu states. The point being made here is that the face-off between these two groups of people constitutes a big threat to food security in Nigeria. Both farmers and cattle herders are food producers and a fight between the two groups does not augur well for the country.
Flooding is another threat to food security. In 2012, Nigeria witnessed flooding despite the early warning by the Nigerian Meteorological Agency. Available records show that 2012 flooding directly affected 30 states, killed 363 citizens, injured 5,851 and displaced 3,871,053 persons. The total value of destroyed physical and durable assets caused by the floods in the most affected states was estimated to have reached N1.48tn. This year, NIMET had through its Seasonal Rainfall Prediction said about 16 states faced the danger of flooding in 2016. What are we doing to forestall that from happening? If we allow it through our accustomed negligence and nonchalant attitude, we should be rest assured that it will pose threat to food security as many farmlands will be washed off and farmers who are displaced will not be able to nurture their plants.
The activities of terrorist Boko Haram in the North-East have since 2009 posed a major threat to food production and security in Nigeria. As the group embarked on their destructive missions, many farmers have been killed and those who manage to escape have had to abandon their farmlands to live as Internally Displaced Persons in camps and host communities. I recall that some years ago, some traders who sold foodstuffs at Bodija market in Ibadan were slaughtered by this insurgent group on their way to Borno State to buy farm produce.
I may have painted a gory picture about the food security situation in Nigeria. However, it is not a hopeless case. I have listened to the Minister of Agriculture, Chief Audu Ogbeh, at different fora and he sounds very convincing about how to deal with the daunting challenges being a practising farmer himself. Just on July 20, 2016, the Federal Executive Council met and approved the Agriculture Promotion Policy (2016-2019). According to Ogbeh, the policy outlined all that needed to be done to achieve self-sufficiency in agriculture. He said: “The document is entitled, ‘The Green Alternative’ and it outlines virtually everything we need to do, every policy we need to undertake to achieve self-sufficiency in agriculture and also to become a major exporter of agricultural products.”
It is imperative we all know that we are stakeholders in tackling the issue of food security. We can be smallholder farmers planting vegetables and fruits in our backyards. We can engage in small scale animal husbandry and poultry in our homes. We can also provide an enabling environment so that those who want to engage in agriculture can practise without fear of molestation. It is gratifying that the Imo State Government has declared Thursday and Friday as farming days for its work force. I do hope the government will provide the needed incentives for the workers to engage in farming. Food security is the best security because, as the saying goes, an hungry man is an angry man.
Jide Ojo is a Public Affairs Analyst.