Neglect a fire and it will overpower thee—Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

By Dele Sobowale

THERE are several fires raging in Nigeria today which will overpower us unless President Muhammadu Buhari wakes up from his slumber, and moves quickly to put them out. But, one fire is now on the verge of breaking out and its consequences will dwarf all the others by actually escalating them. Famine on an unprecedented scale is building up in the land and, if government fails to take pre-emptive steps, it will make Boko Haram, herdsmen and bandits menaces appear like child’s play. Indeed, famine will turn virtually the majority of our people into bandits.

Just in case you think this is an exaggeration and you doubt if the hungry masses cannot acquire the arms with which to unleash mayhem on the fortunate few who will continue to feed well irrespective of what the prices of foodstuff are, let me remind you of the answer provided by a sage over two thousand years ago. But, before going into the substantive matter permit me to draw the attention of readers to events occurring right now to which the governments, Federal and States, are not paying adequate attention.

Imo Governor-elect to prioritise youth empowerment, food production, commerce

A few weeks ago, several newspapers carried the news that children in an Internally Displaced Persons’ centre were feeding on only onion leaves. Before that another story carried in The Nation published pictures of mothers whose children die daily in their arms on account of hunger and severe malnutrition. The United Nations’ just released a global report indicating that Nigeria has the third worst life expectancy of nations in the world. We received the “bronze medal” for this misery by beating several countries which have been at war –Afghanistan, Syria, Libya etc – for years. The vast majority of victims died before the age of five and on account of dietary deficiencies. Not that adults are spared the pains of death at an early age due to poor feeding habits, but the kids die first and lower the average life expectancy more with each casualty.

Two major factors are now reducing much further the food supply available to Nigerians. One is man-made; the other is mostly natural i.e climate change. Together, they are setting Nigeria on a course we will not like and which will likely result in break down of law and order – unless governments act now and decisively. There is no time to lose.

Herdsmen, Boko Haram, and now, bandits, have sent hundreds of thousands of Northern farmers off the land. Whereas in the past, as recent as 2017, one would observe farmers preparing the land for planting in February, many farms are now left fallow.

Widespread violence all over the North have turned historical food baskets in the region into wastelands now. Most of Borno State and a great portions of Yobe and Adamawa and even Benue and Taraba into no-go areas for hundreds of thousands of farmers. Having reaped the harvests of sorrow on account of invasion by herdsmen and incessant conscription of what is harvested by Boko Haram and bandits, the farmers have no incentive to start anymore.

FG Moves Against Herders-Farmers Clashes In The NorthDaily Independent, Monday, May 6, 2019.

The Federal Government and its security forces, which were slow to act when the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, MACBAN, was terrorising Benue State and slaughtering Tiv, Idoma, Bassa and Agatu with impunity, according to the news report has now called for a meeting with the MACBAN in Kebbi, perhaps because that state is in the “core North” and it is rice farmers at Yelwa Yauri, Koko and Argungu who are now having their farms invaded. Meanwhile, several thousand farmers in Benue, a real food basket, are hesitant to try again without firm and demonstrable assurances that their labours will not be in vain once again.

When our national food security is not threatened by FG inaction and denials as well as the combined effects of violence unleashed by BH, herdsmen and bandits, we are now experiencing the worst drought in almost forty years. We are in the second week of May and farmers nationwide have not planted because the early rain this year was insufficient to start the cycle. Planting delayed means harvest also delayed and if the rain that follows is devastating, it will mean lower yields all around at a time the nation needs more food produced.

Farmers in Wushishi Local Government and Zungeru, Niger State, early this year expressed concerns over this year’s food prospects. They are not alone. Climate change and its repercussions are global problems which nevertheless still have to be solved locally. To the best of my knowledge, the FG and State Governments are not developing options for dealing with severe food shortage in the country this year. Therein lies the problem.

Anger supplies the arms—Virgil, 70-19BC.

It is now globally accepted as an axiom that “a hungry man is an angry man”. If so, Nigerian political leaders from the Aso Rock to all the four corners of Nigeria are not planning to avert the dangers of having millions of hungry men, women and children roaming around the streets. Hunger by itself invariably induces many of the crimes which society wants to suppress – stealing, hijacking of food items, food conscription by armed troops of BH and bandits, traffic in selling babies, prostitution (a starving female, including under-aged ones is an easy prey for those with a little money) and even murder and kidnapping. As serious hunger creeps silently into every part of the Nigerian society, the battalion of hungry people increases in size and the number of states at risk also multiplies.

For those who might be wondering how the hungry people will be able to afford to obtain the arms with which to fight, Virgil provided the answer more than two thousand years ago.

Using the kids in IDPs as example of what to expect, it is clear to me that anybody who thinks that the kids eating onion leaves in IDPs will continue to be satisfied eating that rubbish must have rocks where brains are supposed to be. The older boys will break out first to join established criminals in their domains. The rest will follow when they run out of onion leaves to consume.

WAY FORWARD

Now that Buhari has returned from wherever, instead of indulging in the childish game of “I told you so” with media who doubted his statements, he should urgently convene a Council of State meeting with only one item on the agenda How to prevent mass starvation in 2019.

As usual, he can ignore the advice because Dele Sobowale gave it. But, if we experience hunger on the scale likely from my trips to the Northwest this year, then it is not only the traditional ruler of Daura who will be kidnapped. All traditional rulers in Nigeria will be at risk.

A word is sufficient