One of the few national Assembly members in the 9th session of the national legislature who has just inked his name on the sands of time and indeed in an unexpected thematic area is Senator Orji Uzor Kalu who represents Abia North.
I said he is making this landmark achievement in an unexpected field because basically, long before he embarked on the political Journey, he had successfully conquered hunger by dint of hard work and resilience.
In truth, Orji Uzor Kalu, like him or hate him, is amongst the few young Nigerians whose “Chi” generously assisted to break his palm kernel of survival because he was not born with the silver spoon. The gentleman worked literally from grass to grace.
So, when it came to us at the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) that a senator who was a two terms governor of Abia State has proposed legislation to end mass hunger, we decided to understudy this unpredictable move.
Although as someone with some personal knowledge of Senator Ouk, I must state at the onset that the Senator is a genuine African who practices the revered African traditional value system of hospitality.
He is one person I know that whatever time you sauntered into his Abuja home, you can be sure of a delicious meal with some tasty wine to wash the superb delicacy down. So, it can be said that his love and passion to end hunger as one of the most troubling human rights issues is like saying “Charity begins at home”. He is preaching what he practices with a passion.
I will delve into the loaded scientific, verifiable economic statistics for saying that hunger is one of the most severe human rights problems afflicting millions of Nigerians. Ironically, this genuine, passionate, and all-encompassing determination to employ the instrumentality of national legislation to stamp out hunger in Nigeria did not get the kind of page one interest that it deserves.
By the way, by global statistics, Nigeria harbors over 90 million absolutely poor people and is currently the poverty capital of the World.
The global health emergency of Covid-19 and the seemingly intractable terrorism in the North of Nigeria has contributed to making hunger one of the first five most disturbing social menaces that constituted a grave human rights problem.
Adedeji Ademigbuji and Christine cool did a piece that was published in one of the respected online newspapers published on July 8th, 2021 and captured the hunger situation in the North East of Nigeria.
Writing on the topic: “Hunger biting cost of insecurity in North-East Nigeria: Food insecurity threatens an estimated 4.4 million people, 775,000 of who are at extreme risk’, the duo stated thus:
“Insecurity and conflict have plagued Northeast Nigeria for almost 12 years, causing millions of people to feel the pain of hunger. As the northeast enters the lean season, food security assessments released in March 2021 indicated that looming food insecurity threatens an estimated 4.4 million people, 775,000 of whom are at extreme risk.
COVID-19 has only exacerbated the situation, causing economic shocks that have affected families’ ability to access or purchase food.
This dire humanitarian crisis is exacerbated by access constraints and other challenges that hinder the principled, timely, and much-needed delivery of humanitarian aid.
In one of the latest security incidents, in April 2021, food warehouses in Damasak and the humanitarian office were burned to the ground by the non-State armed groups (NSAGs). This led to a temporary reduction in operations, which heightened the already alarming risk of severe food insecurity.
And as the conflict approaches its 12th year, with no signs of slowing, people’s needs continue to increase amid the backdrop of rising attacks on humanitarians and assets.
Security and access to affected communities are crucial to ensure the principled delivery of humanitarian aid.
This year, an estimated 8.7 million people in northeast Nigeria need some form of humanitarian assistance, 6.4 million of whom are targeted to receive aid as part of the UN and partners’ Humanitarian Response Plan.
Despite enormous risks to their safety, the United Nations (UN) and its partners continue to find ways to deliver aid and food assistance through a process called “localization,” which allows partners and agencies to work with local non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to deliver humanitarian aid and assistance to unreached communities constantly under threat of violence from armed groups.
To provide food to communities, the World Food Programme (WFP) works through partners such as Intersos and local NGOs like Salient Humanitarian.”
Another valid report on the biting situation of hunger was encapsulated in a piece entitled: “Nigeria: Covid-19 impact worsens Hunger in Lagos. Inadequate support highlights need for expanded social security system”.
The article said the following basic points:
“The economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has worsened the plight of families living in poverty in Lagos State, Nigeria, and left many people struggling to afford food and meet other basic needs.
Survey data shows federal and state government support, including cash transfers and food assistance, reached only a fraction of families going hungry.
The Covid-19 crisis has highlighted the critical need for a functioning social security system to allow all Nigerians to achieve an adequate standard of living.
The economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has worsened the plight of families living in poverty in Lagos State, Nigeria, and left many people struggling to afford food and meet other basic needs, Human Rights Watch and Justice & Empowerment Initiatives (JEI) said in a report released today. The number of Nigerians experiencing hunger doubled during the pandemic.
The 87-page report, “Between Hunger and the Virus,’ The Economic Impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic on People Living in Poverty in Lagos, Nigeria,” documents how a five-week lockdown, rising food prices, and a prolonged economic downturn have had a devastating impact on informal workers, slum dwellers, and other urban poor families in Lagos. The absence of a functioning social security system meant that government assistance, including cash transfers and food handouts, reached only a fraction of people going hungry.
“The troubling reality of the Covid-19 crisis for many families in Lagos has been hunger and deprivation,” said Anietie Ewing, Nigeria researcher at Human Rights Watch. “With people still battling every day for survival, the pandemic has highlighted the critical need for a functioning social security system that will allow all Nigerians to achieve an adequate standard of living.”
The World Bank forecasted in January 2021 that the Covid-19 crisis will result in an additional 10.9 million Nigerians entering poverty by 2022, defined as people living below the national poverty line of around $1 a day. In Lagos State, high levels of urban poverty – most of the state’s more than 20 million residents live in slums or informal settlements – left people vulnerable to the economic impact of the pandemic.
Between May 2020 and March 2021, Human Rights Watch spoke with more than 60 people from 13 communities in Lagos State, conducting multiple rounds of interviews to document the evolution of the pandemic. Human Rights Watch also analyzed surveys by Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) and by JEI and the Nigerian Slum/Informal Settlements Federation, an advocacy group for people living in poverty.
Lagos residents said the Covid-19 crisis devastated their already fragile access to food and livelihoods. Margaret Okuomo, a mother of seven in Ago Egun Bariga, lost her job as a cleaner in March 2020. She quickly exhausted her meager savings and was unable to feed her children. “We [have] our fill in the morning, and sometimes at night we just soak two handfuls of garri [a staple made from cassava] and sleep,” she said. Human Rights Watch’s analysis of NBS data found that half of the households surveyed nationwide in May, August, and November 2020 had run out of food in the preceding 30 days, compared with a quarter of households surveyed in 2018 and 2019.
Okuomo found a new job sweeping roads in November 2020 but rising food prices mean she is still struggling to make payments on loans incurred during the pandemic. NBS data shows that nearly one-third of people surveyed in August 2020 had taken on debt during the Covid-19 crisis. More than half of households used these loans to purchase food.
Another study has this to say:
“Insecurity and conflict have plagued northeast Nigeria for almost 12 years, causing millions of people to feel the pain of hunger. As the northeast enters the lean season, food security assessments released in March 2021 indicated that looming food insecurity threatens an estimated 4.4 million people, 775,000 of whom are at extreme risk. COVID-19 has only exacerbated the situation, causing economic shocks that have affected families’ ability to access or purchase food.
This dire humanitarian crisis is exacerbated by access constraints and other challenges that hinder the principled, timely, and much-needed delivery of humanitarian aid. In one of the latest security incidents, in April 2021, food warehouses in Damasak and the humanitarian office were burned to the ground by non-State armed groups (NSAGs). This led to a temporary reduction in operations, which heightened the already alarming risk of severe food insecurity.
Without urgent action, thousands of families will descend into catastrophic food conditions during this lean season.”
It is against this frightening background of mass hunger affecting all segments and sections of Nigeria that we commend the decision of the top-ranking Senator from the South East, the former Abia State governor Orji Uzor Kalu to give a strong voice to the campaign against hunger.
A Bill seeking to kick-start the establishment of a specialized bank to ensure food security in Nigeria, avail youths the opportunity to secure the loan(s) through the bank using their certificates as collateral as well as encourage youths to engage in Agriculture has scaled its first reading at the Nigerian Senate.
The Bill, titled: “National Food Bank of Nigeria” (Establishment) Bill 2021 SB (780) is sponsored by Abia North Senator and Senate Chief Whip Orji Uzor Kalu.
Besides helping to attain food stability, the Bill, according to its sponsor, also aims to reduce the number of unemployed youths and encourage youth empowerment in the country.
Senate Leader Yahaya Abdullahi read the Bill on Wednesday before the Senate, following which it was referred for second reading.
The Food Bank concept focuses on tackling hunger, reducing food waste, and solving malnutrition through targeted programs that seek to improve the availability of food to different categories of persons.
The HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) hereby endorses this brilliant move by Senator Orji Uzor Kalu to battle the social menace of hunger ravaging millions of homes and we urge that farmers must be protected from the vicious attacks of armed invaders masquerading as herdsmen.
*EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO is head of the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) and was a federal commissioner at the National Human Rights Commission of Nigeria.