In recent years, Nigeria has consistently been featured on the negative side of the different global human development reports. These reports indicate that life expectancy in Nigeria has drastically reduced to 45; real income of most families has plunged; unemployment is scandalously high; Nigeria is topping the list of countries with malnourished children while the quality of health and education services in the country has deteriorated beyond belief.
Today, Nigeria is ranked as the 20th hungriest country in the world. Beyond lamentation, the government should initiate concrete intensive agricultural activities capable of raising the abysmal level of food production in the country. We don’t even need outsiders to tell us that millions of Nigerians suffer from hunger. The pitiable sight of numerous professional beggars thronging our streets is enough to confirm that we are a country of hungry people. Besides, a recent report by the United Nation’s Children Fund (UNICEF) revealed that in Nigeria no fewer than six million children, representing about 37 per cent are stunted while the world’s average is 25 per cent. The figure for Rwanda, another African country, is 20 per cent. The cost of disregarding this issue in human and economic terms cannot be quantified, especially when child mortality in Nigeria has malnutrition as a major underlying factor.
In a move to tackle the challenge, President Buhari recently inaugurated the National Food Security Council. The council, which comprises six governors drawn from six geographical locations of the country, and ministers and security agents, has among its key mandate to continuously assess existing food security policies, trade and national planning programmes “thereby guaranteeing that they achieve their full potential.” According to the president, the council, which he chairs, “shall also develop new programmes and projects that will protect and indeed, create more jobs in farming, fisheries, animal husbandry and forestry.”
However, while the move is ordinarily commendable, we must also remind the authorities that successive governments in Nigeria have always initiated projects towards promoting agriculture but the projects failed to yield the maximum results due to corruption, structural weaknesses, mismanagement and undue politicisation.
For example, the second National Economic Plan (1970-74) of Yakubu Gowon made agriculture a priority, but unfortunately that effort failed the desired results. Between 1975 and 1979, General Olusegun Obasanjo also initiated a gargantuan agricultural scheme popularly called Operation Feed the Nation (OFN) but the scheme failed to tackle the country’s food crisis. In the Second Republic, President Shehu Shagari introduced the Green Revolution Programme with a view to increasing domestic food production. That programme as well as several others that came after also ended up as colossal failure.
Therefore, the greatest challenge facing the Buhari government is to ensure its programme succeeds where others have failed. It is not enough to inaugurate the National Food Security Council; efforts must be made to ensure it delivers on its mandate. To ensure that this will not be another failed project, the government must diversify from oil and invest heavily in agriculture. Basic food production must not fall prey to power politics. The government, at all levels, as well as banks should develop schemes to provide credit facilities to farmers to invest in mechanised agriculture. Massive rural-urban drift decimating the rural farm workforce should be tackled by making the rural areas attractive for young rural job seekers.
Fortunately, there are concerned citizens and civic groups helping to chart a pathway. Come Thursday in Abuja, the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Foundation, in collaboration with the European Union, will premiere a new documentary titled ‘Swallow: Food Security in Nigeria’s Changing Climate’ essentially to highlight the point that a country as richly-endowed as Nigeria should not be suffering from the scourge of food scarcity.