For over 10 years, the population of hungry people was on a steady decline, but now, the number of hungry people is on the increase globally and now affecting 815 million people. The more saddening dimension is that Nigeria now features rather prominently among affected places on account of the country’s northeast region.
Nigeria’s northeast was identified as being at high risk of famine in ‘State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World’, a report jointly authored by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
Buttressing this, another report, the 2017 global report on food crises by the Food Security Information Network, noted that an estimated 8.1 million people are food insecure in Northern Nigeria, with 4.7 million coming from the Northeast alone.
To put this in context, neighbouring Togo has a population of 7.7 million people, and there are as many as 130 countries with a population of less than 8 million. By implication, what appears to be a small fraction of Nigeria’s population is more than the entire population of several countries.
Apart from insecurity which has seen farming activities grind to a halt for up to five years, the ray of hope this year was shattered as rainfall stopped abruptly before crops were matured enough to survive with little or no water. This is likely to make the already bad situation even worse. In Borno and Adamawa, two of the most affected states by Boko Haram insurgency, some people have blamed the worsening situation on diversion of food items (meant for relief) for sale in other states. There is also a disconnect between state governments and the challenges being faced their people, as many incidents outside the state capitals evade the attention of policymakers. Many state executives will rather hideaway in Abuja, rather than provide leadership and attention which the states direly need.
The Northeast as it appears is now suffering on multiple fronts. Apart from the threat to lives by Boko Haram Insurgents, hunger may very well get the job done if bullets fail to achieve it. It is also puzzling that despite several international and local donor agencies focusing attention on the region, things appear to worsen.
We believe that the Northeast region, even with all its security challenges, needs to be opened up for transparency in the management of the humanitarian crisis. Situations where donated food items are callously sold in other parts of the country while those they are meant for starving to death can no longer be allowed to continue.
The Presidential Initiative on the North East and other platforms that have been created in catering to the humanitarian crisis in the region should as a matter of urgency, start going beyond merely soliciting for aid. The distribution of aid items to affected people should be made as public as possible, documented, and offered only to people who have either been displaced or in genuine need of aid.
The security agencies should no longer hide behind the guise of insecurity in restricting access to this region as it creates an opportunity for the distribution of aid to get shrouded in such secrecy, while the victims of insurgency are denied the aid which was solicited in their name.
We can no longer dismiss the plight of over eight million starving Nigerians under the guise of insecurity. If it remains impossible for the government to provide security and peace for the endangered Nigerians in the Northeast, they should at the very least, be fed.