Sunday will be Christmas. And for a lot of families it would be another bleak Christmas. It would be Christmas without the traditional staple food; the almighty rice for which many families will struggle with their children because that staple food is non-negotiable.
The level of hunger that many families are enduring right now is inconceivable. With a bag of rice above N40,000 and the cost of other foodstuffs generally skyrocketing; it goes without saying that for many families the yuletide wouldn’t be merry after all.
Some years back, when the cost of bread rose beyond the reach of a lot of families, those who complained were admonished to seek alternatives in yam and others. Today, there are no cheaper alternatives and many families are going for days without a decent meal.
Few weeks ago, the Minister of Agriculture, Dr Mohammed Mahmood Abubakar, while presenting his ministry’s scorecard from 2015 to 2023 in Abuja, attributed the rising cost of food items to inflation and COVID-19 pandemic.
He also expressed doubt that the herders would intentionally unleash their cattle on farms which has been the cause of clashes between herders and farmers which often result in casualties.
For him, the country has enough food to feed all citizens.
He noted that to improve food stock in the country, the ministry was currently constructing 10 large scale integrated rice mills with 320 metric tonnes capacity per day in Jigawa, Kano, Adamawa, Niger, Kaduna, Gombe, Ekiti, Ogun, Bayelsa and the Federal Capital Territory in addition to supporting the production and distribution of breeder, foundation and certified rice seeds for farmers..
He said, “We have enough food to take care of Nigerians. We are producing food across the country and we will continue to do so to feed Nigerians in line with our mandate and expedite the transformation of the rural communities of Nigeria.”
Meanwhile, in a survey done by a national newspaper, farmers across the country dismissed the minister’s claims and proffered the real reasons for the soaring price of foodstuff. They attributed it to the activities of killer-herders and the lack of incentive from the state and the Federal Government.
Farmers, according to Vanguard, in Plateau State attributed food scarcity to the frequent invasion of their farms by herdsmen. They argued that in the past, many families had enough food at home and only sold what was necessary to meet other needs but now, families are stranded because they have lost both their homes and means of livelihood to the activities of these herders.
The farmers said they have lost different types of grains, tubers and vegetables among other crops to the unwholesome activities of herdsmen who apart from destroying the crops in the farm, also burnt food barns where foodstuffs and seedlings were kept. Respondents from Bokkos, Bassa, and Wase local government areas of the state unanimously lamented their sorry situation.
There must be something about the Agric ministry that insulates the occupants of that office from the realities on the ground.
Recall that Abubakar’s predecessor, Sabo Nanono, had told Nigerians in October 2019 that the nation was producing enough to feed itself, contrary to the narrative in some quarters that there was hunger in the land.
“From what I am seeing in this conference room, there is no sign of hunger but obesity. Only a few people like me are either trying to balance their diet or fasting; that is responsible for the way some of us look?
“The policy of the present government for us to feed ourselves is key. In the process value chains are being created to empower people and give out some jobs.
“I think we are producing enough now to feed ourselves and I think there is no hunger but if you say inconveniences I would agree.
“When people talk about hunger I laugh because they do not know hunger. If you go to other countries you will see what hunger is.”
“Food in Nigeria is fairly cheap compared to other countries. In Kano, for instance, you can eat N30 worth of food and be satisfied. So, we should be thankful that we can feed ourselves and we have relatively cheap food in this country,” he said.
That was a minister that, thankfully, lost his job a few years later. How pedantic and pedestrian can anybody be when a minister looks across a hall of ministry officials, journalists and other stakeholders, and comes to a conclusion that with such a hall of people with protruding tummies, it was an indication that all Nigerians are well fed?
In January this year, the federal government in a bid to impress people who are suffering the pang of excruciating hunger, rushed to Abuja to display the Central Bank of Nigeria/RIFAN Paddy Pyramids, adjudged as the largest rice pyramid in Africa.
Naturally, all hopes were raised that with the impressive showing, it was only a matter of time before the price of that staple food would come crashing and be available across the country. Alas, that was not to be. Some also claimed that not only will food be available for Nigerians, but that the country would soon begin to export.
I am not surprised that Abubakar would doubt the activities of bandits and killer Fulani herders as also being responsible for the scarcity and high costs of foodstuffs. I am also not surprised that he wants us to believe that we have enough food in the country, yet Nigerians have been reduced to beggars.
That is the narrative that President Buhari and his team have continued to push. They want us to believe that the activities of the middlemen, Covid-19 and the declining fortune of Lake Chad, among others, are responsible. Yet, our farmers are daily being killed and chased from their farms and their ancestral homes by killer-herders who, it appears, have been given the go-ahead to continue with their murderous activities.
One thing for sure, is that this would be another bleak Christmas for many. But we can only be hopeful knowing that by May 29, 2023, it would be nunc dimittis for a government that has not only failed but has continued to tenaciously hold on to a narrative that begs the issue and stands truth on its head.
How can there be food surplus, as claimed by these ministers, and yet tomato is very expensive; rice, beans, yam, garri etc, are daily vanishing from our homes? Note that no mention was made of animal protein. That’s now an exclusive preserve of the rich.
Merry Christmas, with or without rice, to us all. The next election affords us the opportunity to send away these court jesters who parade themselves as political office holders. Their only assignment is to sing the praises of the president and entertain him.