Nigeria: Real Famine Imminent in 2020, Early 2021

21 September 2020

Good day Uncle Dele. We're back to the stark realities of one of your forecasts. We'd embark once more into maize importation. Since the farmers cannot farm again because of herdsmen, here we are back to the dark ages."

The message arrived on September 4, 2020. I kept it till now because last week was devoted to pointing out why the statement credited to Buhari, after another incestuous retreat by the Federal Government was an exercise in grand illusions. An economic programme based on Vision 20:2020 and Economic Recovery and Growth Plan, ERGP, both massive failures, amounted to anchoring your ship of state to two shipwrecks. I was the first to pronounce Vision 20-2020 a fraud and we are in 2020 and the hoax has been exposed. ERGP was a hasty response to the recession of 2016. Again the prediction of failure was made immediately it was released. ERGP promised seven per cent GDP growth by 2020. We are in September 2020 and the year will, most likely, end with minus growth.

Nigerians should be deeply worried by how often the Federal Government fails to achieve the targets it announced. Government is becoming a joke; and they won't learn. Policy on maize importation is another example of government deceiving itself and Nigerians. A few important facts about maize, as well as other crops, should reveal why it was stupid to categorically prohibit maize importation. Nigeria's food supply, in the aggregate, rests on shaky foundations.

"The largest maize producing areas - North-East, North-West and North-Central regions that contribute 25.43 per cent, 22.9 per cent and 25.88 per cent respectively - are under siege from terrorists, bandits, kidnappers and Fulani militants." - Punch Editorial, September 15, 2020.

It is bad enough that over 74 per cent of Nigeria's maize harvest is at risk in those three Northern zones; the situation is made worse by two facts. Even the 26 per cent from the South is not assured. Meanwhile the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, in a bewildering reversal of a policy announced only in July, suddenly granted duty waiver to four companies which will be allocated foreign exchange to import maize. Then, a few days ago, the President ordered the CBN not to grant any food importer foreign exchange. "Chop-I-chop" is here again.

"Confusion is a word we have invented for an order not understood." - Henry Miller, a US writer.

On the face of it, most Nigerians will assume that the rapid policy shifts represent confusion on the part of the FG and CBN.

The covert selection of four favoured importers takes us back to the period in our history when one person had sole import rights for rice and sugar. He became immensely rich overnight. The waiver and import rights granted to the four will not solve the problem of maize shortage. It will only make a few people extremely rich while most Nigerians are being steadily impoverished.

At any rate, the quantity allowed for maize imports will not avert the prospect of looming massive famine. Maize harvest is not the only food item suffering a setback from the combination of terrorism, defective government food policies and CBN confusion. Flood, which has devastated a great deal of rice producing areas is affecting other crops as well. We will certainly harvest far less rice than anticipated on account of flooding all over Nigeria. For instance, Kebbi State, one of the major rice producing states, has experienced unprecedented flood. The water will not soon recede, and when it does, rice and other crops under it will be totally wasted. It was while visiting Kebbi and observing the devastation of the farmlands that President Buhari stopped foreign exchange allocation for all food importers. It cannot be otherwise. The FG is broke.

"Nigeria's revenue dropped by 65%, says finance minister." - Punch, September 15, 2020.

The Finance Minister sent out a chilling warning as she made this startling revelation about FG's inability to discharge its responsibilities to the people. "We cannot do what we used to do anymore." The repercussions will be catastrophic in many ways. But, before touching on some of the consequences of revenue shortfall, one must interrogate the minister's implied admission of helplessness. It is instructive to note that while only 35 per cent of revenue is currently collected, FG workers are fully paid. One must wonder why government cannot reduce its expenditure on personnel. Specifically, why is Nigeria having 42 ministers when the USA, China, India, Brazil - states bigger and richer operate with less than 15 each? Apart from flood, which might not last beyond December, famine is imminent and will last longer. The reasons are clear to most Nigerians now except their leaders. Let me explain.

"Why are you killing Christians?" - US President Donald Trump asked the Nigerian President. According to Buhari, he answered by saying that when cattle are on the move they inadvertently enter peoples' farms and destroy crops. There is nothing ethnic or religious about the invasion -- words to that effect. Everybody who has ever marked examination papers can easily see why many candidates fail examinations. Trump must have had to restrain himself a great deal to avoid saying "MrPresident, you have not answered my question."

Even if it was a good answer, it was the wrong answer to the question asked. As it turned out, it was revealing of how Buhari's mind works. There was no sympathy for the farmer in his entire response. For him, only the herdsmen and their cattle deserve understanding. Furthermore, his defence of herdsmen atrocities failed to address why the herdsmen who had operated from time immemorial never became gun-toting terrorists, acting with impunity and openly boasting of their powers until after 2015.

I want to give President Buhari the benefit of doubt that he could not think of all the possible consequences of his open support for herdsmen-terrorists. He must have found it difficult to understand that the cattle which, according to him, wander from forests to farms and devastate them, were undermining his quest for sustainable food security. He was building a legacy of food self-sufficiency with one hand; and demolishing his monument with the other.

Today, millions of farmers have deserted their farms. Buhari might not know, women and girls are responsible for the majority of the food grown on small scale and subsistence farms. When bestial herdsmen added kidnapping, murder and rapes to the age-long crimes of arson and destruction, they drove millions of women off the farms. The men cannot fill the gap; because they are targets of murderers and kidnappers.

In that regard, President Buhari's remark when he recently imposed prohibition on foreign exchange for food import is instructive. The Nigerian President announced that there are millions of unemployed youth and abundant land to cultivate. He therefore thinks that forcing the young to farm is a good idea.

I totally agree about youth unemployment and its potential security risks. I also accept that the country still has abundant land for cultivation. But, I have a question to ask. If he is not President and his daughter is jobless, will he ask her to go and farm in Borno, Zamfara, Katsina or Kaduna state? His honest answer to that question should prove to him how impractical his idea is and why serious hunger is here to stay.

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