While most Nigerians are adept at hiding and ignoring their nation’s hunger and poverty, the past year has not permitted the continuation of that habit without presenting massive allowances for exposure. The current consensus is, “there is untold hunger in Nigeria” and it is hounding over 120 million citizens (who used to live on less than $1.25 a day but it is more like less than $0.50 today) as if with a sheer punitive vengeance. Starvation is becoming commonplace yet death by starvation in the land would be unthinkable to most Nigerians. Think again. The aspect of hunger most are unlikely to handle is, who is to blame?
Blame is not the purpose of this article. The hunger indicated here is both literal (lack of bread on the table) and figurative (lack of bread in one’s pocket). While hunger is a terrible and devastating portion for people unfortunate enough to experience it involuntarily and enduringly, a wealthy Nigerian I met two days ago seriously thinks Nigeria’s new mass hunger experience is a true blessing to the nation. The man’s reason is that most Nigerians have been too unrealistically driven towards financial gain and luxury lifestyles for far too long in a country that is neither developed enough nor rich enough to meet such grand expectations; it is a ‘consume first, produce later’ economy.
Being an oil-rich nation is not the same thing as being a rich nation. Yet, Nigerians are famed for having acquired the [foreign] tastes of a rich nation triggered by the expenditure frenzy of oil boom years. It is a big part of the “Nigerian Problem”. Yes, Nigerians and mostly their leaders are xenophiliacs; they fanatically love overseas stuff and ways of life while they crash their own. Nevertheless, xenophilia is not the primary or even secondary purview of Nigeria’s over 120 million hungry.
According to this interesting man, Nigeria is now “relearning” (yes, relearning) what the true value of money is and it is a great and priceless education. Well, it is arguable if not contrarian or offensive but it is hard to determine how many people are thinking like this man. Do not be surprised if the president and his propaganda machinery will take credit for “reorienting the tastes and incentives of Nigerians with realism”. However, this realism introduced into the Nigerian psyche by way of hunger is not a welcome one. Anger and despair are raging through Nigeria only dampened by crapious hopelessness and helplessness. Then there are the alarming rates of suicides, broken families/relationships, illnesses and fear. Such is not the stuff of blessings. We no longer need foreign NGOs to credibly confirm what the government has tried so hard to conceal.
To make things worse, there is the conspicuous “president’s example” in these tough times of national hunger. The president and his folk conspicuously consume foreign luxury goods and services while discouraging the rest of the country from doing so by setting up tight controls on forex, trade and public expenditure. The theme of Buhari’s presidency is “I can do it but you cannot do it”. Nigeria’s hunger is the result of government failure, but whose? The blame game will not stop the hunger afflicting countless Nigerians, thoughtful action will.
As hunger continues to ravage Nigeria unrelentingly, we have to ask, how much of the cost must the everyday Nigerian bear to enable the achievement of Buhari’s “Change”? Since when did hunger and starvation become instruments of learning for a nation? Does deprivation increase or reduce the sense of value money goods and services in society in the long-term or even short-term? Why is leading by example missing from President Buhari’s code of leadership? These are the questions hungry Nigerians and those concerned about their hunger should be asking.
No one can be blamed for taking the view that the president could not care less even if severe famine would strike Nigeria with persistence. It will allow him to bring out his “begging bowl” yet again for aid. National Hunger is good for aid seeking but that is no blessing.