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Government must do much more to fight poverty

In a country so blessed with arable land and natural resources, Nigerians deserve a life free from hunger. Unfortunately, both poverty and hunger continue to saturate the country’s landscape. According to the latest figures from the World Food Programme, no fewer than 8.4 million Nigerians in the Northeast are food insecure in a nation where 70 per cent live below the poverty line. “Persistent poverty affects more than half the population, most severely in the northeast and northwest regions. In addition, Nigeria is also subject to periodic droughts and floods,” according to the report. “This has had an adverse impact on agricultural output and increased the vulnerability of populations, especially in rural areas.”  

Indices of hunger and poverty have been pervasive over the years. Millions of Nigerians can hardly afford a good meal a day. The hunger crisis is exacerbated by the unending conflict between farmers and herders in the food belt of the nation. Besides, the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 constricted the economy and raised the level of hunger due to large layoffs amid large-scale joblessness. For an economy that largely depends on imports – from petrol to fertilizers – the impact on the people has been rather tough. Today, Nigerians are reeling from soaring prices of commodities. The Boko Haram insurgency has not only led to the death of thousands of Nigerians but also led to widespread displacement of million others from their communities and farms.    
    Before the recent alarm, similar sentiment had been expressed by the United Nations organFood and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) with predictionof a loominghungerinNigeriaand 20 other countries in the coming months. The gravity of the situation was better expressed in a statement by the FAO Director-General, Qu Dongyu who last year noted that “The magnitude of suffering is alarming. It is incumbent upon all of us to act now and to act fast to save lives, safeguard livelihoods and prevent the worst situation.”    

Going by available statistics, in the three states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe, about 4.5 million people are reportedly at risk of hunger and more than 700,000 of that number are at imminent risk of starvation. In the 2022 Global Hunger Index, Nigeria ranked 103rd out of the 121 countries, chalking up a level of hunger described as “serious.”  

   The International Monetary Fund (IMF) had last year warned that Nigeria could slip into food crisis and that it could degenerate into social unrest. According to the Washington-based financial institution, the food crisis would result from the recent widespread flooding and extensive damage to farmlands across the states, and the rising price of fertilizer. In addition, IMF noted that the nation’s wide exchange rate, the high volatility on the parallel market and the government’s continued dependence on the CBN for budget financing are likely to contribute to higher prices.   

A recent FAO report on Cadre Harmonise (CH), a tool used by the Food Security Sector (FSS) partners to calculate food security and nutrition situation in each location, within a certain period was quite disturbing. Highlighted in the report is the damage caused by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN)’s naira re-design policy. The report further noted that food consumption level had remained inadequate and below the desired threshold across most of the states, and that in some local government areas (LGAs) in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe, food consumption was so critical that they had fallen under the crisis phase.    

What the foregoing suggests is that there will be no honeymoon period for the incoming administration of Bola Ahmed Tinubu. The situation in the country is already very dire. Tackling hunger must be number one priority on the agenda.  

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