“Love and business and family and religion and art and patriotism are nothing but shadows of words when a man is starving.” O Henry, 1862-1910. “Let them eat cake.” Queen Marie Antoinette, 1755-1793.
More heads of government, elected Presidents, Prime Ministers, Monarchs and, even dictators, have been toppled on account of unexpected and unprecedented food riots in many countries of the world.
The most famous food riot in history resulted in the deaths of King Louis XVI, 1754-1793 and the Queen, Marie Antoinette, 1755-1793 during French Revolution, 1789-1799. The food riot was preceded by acute food scarcity, poor harvests and skyrocketing prices of bread. But, the ultimate cause of the riot which precipitated regicide was an off-the-cuff remark by the Queen. When the hungry mobs of peasants and urban poor roamed around Paris, the Queen asked what the problem was. She was told that the masses could no longer afford bread – which was a French staple. One of the most famous one-liners in history – “Let them eat cake” – perceived as a callous ridicule — led to the death of the King and Queen in the hands of people who hitherto had almost worshipped them.
There is a lesson there for President Tinubu. Don’t take hungry people for granted. Hunger precipitates anger. And, “Anger supplies the arms” – according to Virgil, 70-19 BC. Over 100 million Nigerians are now living in hunger – which might get worse for several reasons. Some are beyond your control in the next four years; population growth, at close to three (3) per cent per annum, is one. That monster alone is adding six million more mouths to feed every year; while food supply is not keeping pace with the demand. In fact, the mismatch between population growth and failure of food production summarises the nature of the food crisis which has now become a countdown to a potential catastrophe which can shatter the entire economy.
Some of the other reasons why we are heading for dangerous famine are unfortunately only partly within your control at the moment. They were inherited from sixteen years of Yar’Adua, Jonathan and Buhari administrations. The major one is insecurity – which, with all due respects to you, will be extremely difficult to fully control in the next four years. Paradoxically, the people whose food supply will be increased by improved security are more likely to succumb to terrorists and join them instead of helping to flush them out. That is understandable. Soldiers are miles away, come only occasionally and don’t stay for long. The bandits are nearby; indeed, they now live with the people. Four items published in the newspapers last week would help to illustrate the point. Three, two columns and one report, speak directly to the strangle-hold of terrorists on the farming communities; the fourth reveals its consequences.
BABA-AHMED ON THE NORTH
Baba-Ahmed, always a must-read columnist in any newspaper on Wednesday, July 12, 2023, wrote as follows:
“In real terms, the villagers live and work entirely under conditions dictated by the bandits; basically, the villagers first prepare abandoned farmlands now belonging to the bandit at the onset of the planting season and then move to their own farms.”
Although born on the hard pavements of Lagos Island, I have been involved in farming, one way or another, since 1984 when the Buhari/Idiagbon military junta ordered companies in the food and beverage sector to grow locally the items they imported for processing. In one day, my position changed from Marketing Manager to Corporate Planning Manager – with responsibility for working out how a brewery will also become a farming company. Soon, we were negotiating for 20,000 hectares of land and trying to cultivate crops we never thought of before. This was followed by experience in rice growing, procurement and processing – the entire value chain.
Baba-Ahmed might not realise it, but, he has exposed why massive starvation awaits Nigerians this year and beyond if what he describes persists for long. Globally, the farming season in every country, or regions of it, is continuous and to obtain the best yield certain things must be done at a particular time in the cycle. Nature is in control. It is almost impossible for a farmer to go attending to another farm, leaving his/her own until later, and expect a good result. If land is not cleared and seeds are not in the ground, fertilisers are not applied – at the right time – no amount of effort later will yield good result. Releasing the enslaved farmer (Baba-Ahmed has described modern day slavery again without realising it) after missing the deadline for a process amounts to the most wicked exploitation. Efforts on his/her farm amounts to exercise in futility. Very little will come out of it. And, the situation is compounded at harvest time when the farmer must race against farm robbers and pests. His own harvest will be stolen or ravaged while harvesting his “masters” crop.
OCHEREOME NNANNA PROVIDES ANOTHER ANGLE
If I don’t write for VANGUARD myself, it would have crossed my mind, that Ochereome Nnanna and Baba-Ahmed have conspired to write articles on the same day pointing to why very acute food scarcity is ahead of us. Read this.
“The wailings and mass burials in Benue, Plateau and Southern Kaduna have become such everyday affairs that they have lost their news value; the fact that Tinubu’s Presidency does not even react to them is spine-chilling; we demand answers and we demand action.”
Brilliant stuff! Nnanna, however probably did not realise that he was pointing to another face of the horrors which will make food security almost impossible and famine almost a certainty. Benue, Plateau and Kaduna states, together, account for close to 18 per cent of our food crop production. Ethnic violence, usually rural-based, has left thousands of farms unattended now. In some instances, entire families of farmers have been wiped out. Nobody wants to take the risk of going to farm anymore. The situation in the South East is now just as disturbing. Stay-at-home orders have extended to farmers in the zone.
REP ADD ANOTHER DIMENSION
“Jihadists from Niger, Mali, Libya taxing Nigerian farmers – Rep.”
VANGUARD, JULY 13, 2023.
Sani Yakubu, representing Tangaza/Gudu Federal Constituency in Sokoto State raised an alarm which should have been raised years ago while Buhari was living in a fool’s paradise regarding security in Nigeria. My friends in Sokoto have said the same thing since 2019. Failure to pay incurs death; another farmer bites the dust – with no replacement.
CONSEQUENCES ARE HERE; RICE AS A METAPHOR
“Why local rice price continues to rise – Millers, farmers.”
DAILY TRUST, JULY 10, 2023.
The vendor brought my copy of the paper on Monday morning and the report on the front page immediately messed up my week. There are some truths which everyone’s mind wants to shut out. That food prices in general and rice in particular are on an upward bound escalator has been known to me for years – as an economist/farmer. That has not made it acceptable. At any rate, as a media person, I have a responsibility to inform and educate fellow Nigerians. But, this is bad news; and only sadists gladly deliver bad news.
Rice is vital; it is the weather-vane telling us where food prices are going.
To be continued next week.