• Friday, April 19, 2024
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Taming the food crisis: Governors need to do more

Taming the food crisis: Governors need to do more

Two reports released last week, the inflation figures for the month of February 2024 and the United Nations Human Development Report, reinforce the need for urgent and tangible steps to be taken to address the cost of living and human development crises in Nigeria. The federal and state governments should be commended for the steps they have taken so far, but a lot more needs to be done.

My article last week puts the overarching political responsibility on the shoulders of the president. (The error in the title of that article is regretted: it should have been “Taming the food crisis: the buck stops at the President’s desk” and not “Taming the food crisis: the bulk stops at the President’s desk.”)

This article takes the argument a step further by saying that state governors need to do more. I have actually argued in a previous article that state governors need a coordinated approach under the aegis of the Nigeria Governors Forum. There is, however, an urgent need to reinforce that argument against the background of the worsening condition of living for the poor and vulnerable in Nigeria.

Q: “I have already acknowledged the significant efforts of the Lagos State Government, for example, in selling food items at subsidised prices at Sunday markets in over fifty locations all over the state.”

According to the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics (NBS), headline inflation (which is the same as the Consumer Price Index) increased year-on-year by 1.8 percentage points to 31.7 percent in February 2024, compared to 29.9 percent in January 2024, which represents the highest level of inflation in Nigeria for 28 years. Food inflation increased even more steeply, from 35.41 percent in January to 37.92 percent in February 2024. “Food inflation on a year-on-year basis was highest in Kogi (46.32 percent), Rivers (44.34 percent), and Kwara (43.5 percent) in February 2024, while Bauchi (31.46 percent), Plateau (32.56 percent), and Taraba (33.23 percent) recorded the lowest rise in food inflation on a year-on-year basis.

The United Nations Development Programme last Wednesday released the UN Human Development Report, which revealed that Nigeria and many other developing countries performed poorly on the Human Development Index (HDI), which is a composite index that measures life expectancy, the average number of years of formal education, and income (gross national income per capita) on a scale of 0 to 1. Nigeria has historically performed poorly in the Human Development Index (HDI), averaging 0.503 between 2003 and 2021. In 2022, Nigeria’s HDI was 0.548, which placed Nigeria and Rwanda in a joint 161st position out of 193 countries.

At the launch of the UN Human Development Report in Abuja last week, Mr. Wale Edun, the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, advocated for a reimagining or restructuring of the international financial architecture to more effectively support the realisation of the Sustainable Development Goals, arguing that “the only way to facilitate such a structure is through ambitious reforms, starting with more inclusive, representative, and, ultimately, more effective global economic governance.”

While agreeing with Mr. Edun, I think the place to start is the home front. The reason our Human Development Index is one of the lowest in Africa and the world is primarily because we have historically underinvested in both social infrastructure (education, health, water, and sanitation) and economic infrastructure (power supply, roads, rail, waterways, etc.) over the years.

The three tiers of government in Nigeria have historically underinvested, particularly in the social sector, which I think is traceable to our many years of military interregnum. Even today, the percentage budgetary allocation to education, for example, in the previous eight years was in single digits both at the federal and state government levels, the only major exception being Kaduna State.

At the foundation of the ongoing cost of living and humanitarian crises in Nigeria has been the low premium we have placed on human development, as reflected in budgetary allocations to the social sector and agriculture. While commending the efforts so far expended by federal and state governments in ameliorating the plight of a cross-section of the Nigerian population, there is a strong need for state governors to support the president by doing a lot more. Eventually, the way forward is to mainstream the Sustainable Development Goals in their annual budgetary allocations, with a strong emphasis on the social sector and agriculture.

However, with respect to the immediate challenge of food inflation and the cost-of-living crisis, state governors need to do more. I have already acknowledged the significant efforts of the Lagos State Government, for example, in selling food items at subsidised prices at Sunday markets in over fifty locations all over the state.

The massive mechanised agricultural programme of Niger State is also commendable. But by and large, state governors need to go beyond or even discard the “palliative mentality,” which is episodic, highly discretionary, and barely scratches the surface of the cost-of-living crisis.

State governments first need to allocate a minimum of 5 to 10 percent of their monthly FAAC allocations in the next six months to fight the food crisis in close collaboration with the federal government.

Secondly, food items should be bought in bulk and sold weekly all over the states at designated places at subsidised prices.

Lastly, massive agricultural programmes should be embarked upon by all state governments, including southern state governments, which could, in the next six months, lead to a bumper harvest that will significantly bring down food prices.

Unless state governors do much more than offer palliatives to their people and coordinate their efforts closely with the federal government, the food crisis might be with us longer than expected.