By Dons Eze, PhD
My wife returned home from the market the other day and announced that a painter of garri, which is about 19 cups, now sells for N1,10. I was shocked, completely taken aback. I don’t usually go to market, so I wouldn’t know how much garri, or any other food item sells.
This is the month of March. We have not yet entered the planting season when many food items would go off the shelves, and it would take another three to four months before new farm crops are to be harvested. This means that the price of garri would continue to go up. It is possible that a painter of garri would sell for N2,000, or even more, before new farm products are harvested.
Consider an average family of between six to eight members, how would they be feeding? If they are to feed on garri alone for about one week, they may be spending up to N8,000, for two meals a day. In one month, it would be about N32,000. We have not talked about soup ingredients, which I was made to understand, cost even more. This is in a country where the minimum wage is N30,000 a month, for some states that are paying; where pensioners have been forgotten; and where millions of people roam the streets without job.
As the price of garri is going up, so also are prices of other foodstuffs like yam, potato, rice, beans, maize, ground pea (okpa), onions, tomatoes, etc. For most Nigerians, garri is the commonest food item on the table, and since this is becoming unaffordable, it then means that many people are suffering.
The National Bureau of Statistics has just released figures showing that Nigeria’s inflation rate is in upward trend, rising from 15.75 percent in December 2020, to 16.47 percent in January this year. According to the NBS, Nigeria’s headline inflation has risen to its highest in over three years, while food inflation rose to its highest since July 2008, when it stood at 20.9 percent.
Nigeria’s food index, according to the National Bureau of Statistics, rose sharply to a record high of 20.5 percent in January this year, compared to 19.5 percent, recorded the previous month, December 2020. This actually has confirmed my wife’s report about sharp increase in prices of garri and other foodstuffs in the market.
When we sought to know the reason for this increase in prices of food commodities, we found out that it was not due to the recent failed food boycott by the North against the South. It was also not because our farmers have suddenly become lazy and would no longer go to farm.
We discovered that the reason was primarily due to the activities of Fulani herdsmen, who have turned into another terrorist organization. Many people who would have been going to their farms no longer do so for fear of the ubiquitous presence of Fulani herdsmen and their cattle, who have taken over everywhere. These marauders would kidnap, kill, maim, and rape any woman on sight.
Those who tried to brave it, who had attempted to go to their farms, were met with calamitous consequences. They were kidnapped, butchered, killed, raped, and had their farmlands and farm crops destroyed, houses and farmlands burnt down, etc.
Since the federal government is not doing anything meaningful to protect them, but appears to be more interested in protecting Fulani herders and their cattle, the people have no option than to stay off from their farms.
This is the predicament of many farmers in the country, and which is responsible for their abandoning their farmlands. Better to keep their heads intact, than lose them in the name of trying to grow farm crops, which they may not even live to eat, or to sell and make money. Those who had managed to plant some crops had had these crops eaten up or completely destroyed by cattle, and the government would not do anything.
The resultant effect is the abandonment of farmlands by many farmers, which now leads to continuos increase in prices of foodstuffs, and the consequent effect of hunger in the land.
Many Nigerians are suffering, and have been going on empty stomachs. When the federal government makes noise about increase in COVID-19 cases in the country, and asks people to protect themselves from being infected by the disease, nobody seems to be interested. The people are more concerned in what they would put inside their stomachs. Nigerians are dying in their numbers, not from COVID-19, but due to frustrations and hopelessness that stare them in the face, that is to say, the difficulty in accessing their daily bread.
In 1983, former Nigerian Transport Minister, Umaru Dikko, said that Nigerians were not suffering, because they were not picking meals from the dustbins. This time around, there is practically nothing to pick from the dustbin, because majority of the people do not have anything to eat, let alone have any left over to be thrown into the dustbin.
The federal government should therefore wake up from slumber and rise to their responsibility of protecting lives and properties. They should protect the farmers from incessant attacks by Fulani herdsmen, to enable them return to the farms and begin to cultivate food for the teeming population of the country. This is how to guarantee food security, and ward off hunger that is starring many Nigerians in the face.