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OPINION

Food Security: The Bago Challenge

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Gov. Bago of Niger State

By Dakuku Peterside
Against the run of play, Governor Mohammed Umaru Bago of Niger State ruffled feathers with his speech at the 2023 annual Leadership Newspaper Conference and Awards held in Abuja last week. This speech was an instant hit online and trended at different times on both Instagram and X (Twitter). Governor Bago’s arguments in his speech can be summarised in three ways: First, as a nation, Nigeria cannot achieve economic freedom and eradicate poverty without being productive, especially in agriculture, where we have a comparative advantage. Second, it is indefensible for a nation with an estimated arable land of 40 million hectares and a reasonable youth population to accept grain donation in whatever guise from war-torn Ukraine; and third, because of natural and human endowment, Nigeria can feed the people and export the excess to other countries. There is nothing Governor Bago said that we do not already know, but as a nation, we have egotistically refused to accept these truths nor act on them. These arguments are significant because they were made by a serving Nigerian governor, a member of the powerful club that has enjoyed the monthly sharing arrangement called the Federation Account Allocation Committee( FAAC).
Governor Bago ended his speech by throwing a challenge against the Federal Government’s promise to deploy and distribute 42,000 MT of grains from the strategic reserve, that the Niger State Government will deliver and distribute 100,000 MT of grain by June 2025. Make no mistake about it, Governor Bago was not just exercising his bragging right; he was marketing his strategic plan to rescue Niger State from the sharing mentality, economic doldrums, poverty, unemployment, and criminality. A quick review of what the Niger State Government is doing to accomplish the vision of food sufficiency might give us a better perspective. Niger State, over the next year, plans to cultivate one million hectares of farmland, inclusive of a 50,000 hectares fully irrigated food production hub. Over 500 large-capacity tractors, 1000 pieces of irrigation and agricultural equipment, 2000 power tillers for smallholder farmers, 2000 petrol water pumps, 3000 solar pumps, and 5000 tube wells to support dry season farming have been delivered. Besides, the government has acquired about 100,000 bags of fertilisers, plus herbicides, pesticides, and fungicides have also been obtained. Governor Bago’s commitment to this agricultural revolution in Niger State is self-evident and realistic.
Governor Bago’s challenge in his speech and what he is doing in Niger State is founded on solid historical precedence and economic reasoning. Before we discovered crude oil in commercial quantity and started depending on it as a mono-product, which made us lazy in thinking, diminished the value of hard work, and elevated monthly sharing of FAAC to a religion of sorts, sub-national governments (regional governments) relied solely on agriculture to develop the regions. Some of the iconic infrastructure projects were executed with groundnut, cocoa and palm oil money. The choice of agriculture as an engine of economic growth was because of its multiplier effect. It has an excellent capacity to create employment and wealth. Those reasons are still valid today. The neglect of agriculture and the food production supply chain led Nigeria into many of the economic malaise we are suffering today – from food insecurity, unemployment, criminality and poverty to a dearth of foreign exchange. Some countries that were our contemporaries developed their food production and supply, which became the mainstay of their economy.
Governor Bago’s speech represents a significant shift in thinking in recent times, giving some hope. Some state governments have started making efforts towards creating a clear vision of increased productivity, providing an enabling environment for such productivity, and building on this productivity to improve their internal revenue generation. These governors are using food security in Nigeria as fuel to engage in food production in a way that has not been done in Nigeria for a long time. They understand that the question of food security in Nigeria starts with food production, then food processing, food distribution and food commercialisation, both locally and abroad. But first and foremost, ramping up food production is the first step in tackling the food insecurity conundrum. It is a matter of how much food Nigeria produces. It is determined by what individual states bring to the table. In that regard, the message of self-reliance from the Niger governor is on point. Production of food for local consumption and export is vital for Nigeria’s economy because it solves two significant problems that have recently thrown Nigeria’s economy into a wild spine – food inflation and scarcity of foreign exchange.
Increasing our productive capacity and, by extension, enhancing our internally generated revenue is imperative. States waiting to go to Abuja to pick up peanuts monthly is not sustainable. States, by the design of the 1999 Constitution, ought to be growth centres – actively participating in production and creating the institutional framework, structures, and environment to make this possible. However, only a few states have taken advantage of this vantage position to lift their people out of poverty. Most states function as salary payment centres. This must change if any meaningful development strides will take place in Nigeria. The era of states becoming a leech on the centre, milking the Nigerian state dry, is over. Every state must look inward and decide the best path to economic progress. Each state must have the mentality that if the tap of crude is switched off today, how will it become sustainable? This calls for chief executive officers of the states (governors) to wear their thinking caps now, holistically review their productive comparative advantages, develop an audacious strategic plan, and execute such to achieve a clear vision for the state. Anything less than this is not acceptable to Nigerians.
The idea that consistent productivity at the sub-national level is one critical ingredient among many ingredients that will get us out of the economic mess we found ourselves in is more germane today than ever. The significance of this statement is that state governments are responsible for figuring out the best strategy to make their states viable and contribute to wealth creation and employment generation. Each state must tap into their comparative and competitive advantage to contribute to the national food basket.
A strategy for economic viability will require dealing with internal security issues coupled with medium- and long-term planning. The most crucial short-term action critical to agricultural production presently is to provide security and a safe environment for such economic activities to occur. The states must make farming safe and allow farmers to return to their farms without fear of attacks from bandits or terrorists. Insecurity is a great headwind against agricultural productivity.
Agro-industrialisation is crucial in massive food production and increases local revenue and foreign exchange generation. We are embracing new agro-technology and jettisoning old agricultural practices that have provided suboptimal productivity over the years. This is also a time to bring real entrepreneurs into the food production and processing value chain. State governments should leverage various public-private partnership investments available to bring in seasoned investors and ‘agropreneurs’ to work together to put in place modern mechanised agricultural facilities for the mass production and processing of food. Recently, I had a long discussion with the Governments of Edo, Jigawa, Nasarawa and Akwa Ibom State who are leading in this new PPP arrangement and are collaborating heavily with the private sector (both local and foreign) to produce food for all and revenue to the state and our economy. I could feel a new mindset away from the “sharing mentality”.

Still on Agro-Industrialisation, Agricultural exports accounted for about 90% of Nigeria’s foreign exchange earnings in 1960. In quarter one of 2023, three products alone, Cocoa seed, sesame, and cashew seed, even without maximising our potential, gave the country N297billion. In 2022, Malaysia’s gross domestic product from palm oil export was estimated to be 36 billion Malaysian ringgit (approximately USD 8 billion).
Governor Bago has thrown an open challenge to the Federal Government and his fellow state governors. There is a need for constructive engagement and healthy competition around subnational food productivity. Most importantly, the food imperative allows some states to improve their domestic revenue situation. Agricultural productivity has become an economic lifeline for the states, especially in the north. Kofi Annan argued that “Food security is not only a moral issue but also a strategic one: without food, people have only three options – they riot, they emigrate, or they die. None of these are acceptable options.”
The fight against poverty, unemployment, hunger and malnutrition is one of the most significant challenges of our time, and it’s a challenge that can be won in Nigeria. Nigeria can work towards achieving food security by applying the essential spirit of Bago’s challenge. Quality and affordable food is the fundamental to Nigeria’s development. We must take care of the basics before travelling to the moon. Nigeria’s development hinges on this!

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OPINION

The Scourge Of Rising Inflation

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By Dakuku Peterside*
An increasing number of Nigerians are being driven into poverty, not by choice, but by the current political and economic climate, shaped by stringent macroeconomic policies. These policies, such as subsidy removal, devaluation of Naira, and increase in electricity tariff, have had unintended consequences. For instance, removing subsidies has led to a significant increase in the cost of living, while the devaluation of Naira has made imported goods more expensive. These factors, combined with the high level of insecurity, have affected food security in Nigeria and created a perfect storm of economic hardship. The signs of this unavoidable reality are readily apparent. The interventions to prevent this descent into poverty are either ineffectual or remedy the condition too slowly.
An unprecedented rise in inflation has destroyed households’ disposable incomes and pushed many families into poverty. Spiralling inflation is having a devastating impact on all, but especially on households in the lower rungs of the working class, who in their millions are joining the already over 133 million multidimensionally poor Nigerians struggling to earn a living because high inflation has eroded the value of their income. As shown by the NBS Consumer Price Index of April 2024, published in May 2024, the headline inflation rate rose to 33.69% in April 2024 compared to March. The headline inflation rate was 11.47% higher in April 2024 compared to the previous year. During the same period, inflation in urban areas was higher than in rural areas. Even worse, the food inflation rate in April 2024 was 40.53%, increasing by 15.92% compared to April 2023. What does this mean for the ordinary citizen? More money can purchase fewer goods and services.
We cannot dismiss the direct correlation between rising inflation and rising poverty in Nigeria. A household with a monthly income of N300,000 in April 2023 would have lost 33.69% of its real purchasing power if it earned the same amount in April 2024. This means that the same amount of money can now buy significantly fewer goods and services, putting a strain on the household’s budget. Imagine this household struggled in 2023 to make ends meet; how will it cope with less than 33% of its value in goods and services this year? It is little wonder many Nigerians are in despair and are calling on the government to tweak its policies and salvage the situation before it is too late. Families in the earning bracket mentioned above are even better than many whose total income is less than N100,000 if both parents in the household earn minimum wages per month.
The government intervention so far, with the best of intentions, has yielded little result as inflation continues unabated. The monetary policies of increasing base interest rates to above 22%, improving the cash reserve ratio by banks to above 40%, and constantly engaging in the money market to mop up excess liquidity have yielded less than the expected result in curbing inflation. More is needed, and my little knowledge of street economics shows me that the Nigerian economy often defies some fundamental economic concepts that work in developed countries because of our economy’s informal and unregulated nature. The Nigerian government must creatively use other bespoke and practical fiscal and monetary measures to tame our raging inflation.
Paradoxically, there is compelling evidence that inflation continues to rise because of critical government policies. Instead of providing more concerted anti-inflationary measures, the government has added more inflationary steps to the economy. The government cannot confront inflation while imposing limitless taxes, tariffs, and charges on the things that people spend money on daily. The impact of excess tax is on everybody, but the burden is more on people experiencing poverty whose purchasing power has been eroded by inflation. The government cannot tax itself out of our economic predicament. Increasing personal income tax is one way the government reduces disposable income to curb demand-pull inflation, but the inflation in Nigeria is not because of an increase in household income, but caused by cost-induced factors. So tax on people whose income has not increased in the past year is a recipe for hardship.
Other factors also imperil government efforts to curb inflation. Imported inflation has been the bane of Nigeria, given the number of raw materials and goods imported into Nigeria from countries with high inflation rates. This is not helped by the new exchange rate regime that has seen the Naira fall to its lowest value in a generation. The government has been trying to control the erosion of the value of Naira to no avail. The increasing cost of energy has pushed some businesses to pack up. These factors have exacerbated the rise of inflation, and unless the government starts tackling them, it cannot effectively win its fight against runaway inflation.
The consequences of inaction are severe and far-reaching. The system requires a set of anti-inflationary measures to relieve the people and companies so that livelihoods can improve, and real incomes recover from shock to encourage people to live and save. Savings and prosperity will fire up investment, production, supply, and consequent demand. If inflation worsens, the economy will, at best, go into stasis, further regression, and possibly depression. More manufacturers will quit, and unemployment will worsen with even more crime and insecurity. The picture I painted above is not far from us.
Recent statistics about the hunger level in Nigeria occasioned by food inflation are alarming. There is a deteriorating food security and nutrition crisis in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe (BAY) states this lean season between May and September 2024. According to the Government-led Cadre Harmonise analysis released in March this year, in Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe states, some 4.8 million people are estimated to be facing severe food insecurity, the highest level in seven years. Children, pregnant and lactating women, older persons, and people living with disabilities are among those who are most vulnerable. About 2.8 million of these people need urgent interventions.
The prices of staple foods like beans and maize have increased by 300 to 400 per cent over the past year because of a cocktail of reasons. Inflation is outpacing the ability of families to cope, making essential food items unaffordable. Furthermore, the report stated that “malnutrition rates are of great concern. Approximately 700,000 children under five are projected to be acutely malnourished over the next six months, including 230,000 who are expected to be severely acutely malnourished and at risk of death if they do not receive timely treatment and nutrition support.”  The Acting Representative of UNICEF Nigeria argues that “this year alone, we have seen around 120,000 admissions for the treatment of severe acute malnutrition with complications, far exceeding our estimated target of 90,000”.  These statistics are for only 3 states in Northeast Nigeria. Imagine what it will be like for the whole 36 States in Nigeria. There is real fire on the mountain!
This rising hunger is not peculiar to the Northeast. From my knowledge of street economics, hunger and poverty is pervasive across all six geopolitics zones. Increasing poverty is directly linked with more severe economic outcomes. Increasing poverty can result in a more divided society, Issues with housing, homelessness, limited access to healthcare, nutrition poverty and poor living conditions that have a detrimental effect on one’s health. Children living in poverty have less access to education, which will reduce their chances in the future. More families facing poverty will experience conflicts, stress, and domestic violence. Poverty can set off a vicious cycle in which the effects of it act as catalysts for additional episodes of poverty. Increasing inflation and poverty are bad omens that blow us no good. They are bad for our economy. They are bad for our people. The government must pay attention to these factors and be more sensitive in our economic policy choices.
Only some anti-inflationary measures that comprehensively capture the macroeconomic dimensions and provide solutions may work. Poverty alleviation measures are barely temporary and, at best, work in the short run to cushion the effect of heightened inflation and food insecurity. The government should provide solid medium- to long-term solutions to tackle these problems. They should re-evaluate some of their policies to see whether they are inflationary and jettison them to allow good policies to thrive. We can only imagine the unintended consequences of allowing poverty and inflation to fester. The increasing inflation and poverty are creating desperation among a portion of society, which is increasingly becoming despondent and seeing itself at the fringes of society. The implications of this are plausible. Many ordinary citizens are burdened by poverty, hunger, and severe inflation, which have made their lives miserable. The government must take action to alleviate this scourge and help Nigerians lead meaningful lives.

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OPINION

New Approach To Combatting Terrorism In Nigeria: Truth Alliance And The Path Forward

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Terrorists

By Ahmed Mustapha*

Three weeks ago, a high-level UN counter-terrorism summit in Abuja concluded that a new approach to fighting terrorism was needed across Africa.

As the head of one of Nigeria’s largest NGOs dealing with this problem, I strongly agree and hope that the conclusions of this meeting will herald new and exciting approaches to reducing the risk of more violence and its terrifying consequences for the people of this country and the Continent of Africa.

The summit gathered one month after the brutal kidnapping of over 100 students from Kuriga, Kaduna State.  Even more recent kidnappings show how the terrifying reality of violent extremism remains in Nigeria. Both provide a stark reminder of the ruthless tactics of terrorist or violent extremist groups who target innocent civilians, using suicide bombers in markets, places of worship, and crowded venues, further exacerbating the region’s humanitarian crisis – all to further their cause.

As the summit discussed, the terror unleashed by Boko Haram, Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), and their likes has led to widespread displacement, with millions forced into refugee and internally displaced persons (IDP) camps under dire conditions. The social fabric of entire communities has been torn apart, with trust eroded and countless families mourning the loss of loved ones.

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But there is hope.  Our pioneering work to reduce the risk of violence and rehabilitate those who leave these groups and the tireless works of other groups like us give points to a new way forward.

Our work in affected communities is heralding great results and pointing to a new wave of defections and surrenders from Boko Haram for those fed up with the hypocrisy of its leadership, the brutality of its actions and the cruel manipulation of those whose job it is to recruit people into their ranks.

That is why a group of stakeholders, CSOs and concerned citizens formed the ‘The Truth Alliance’ – a network committed to unmasking the truth behind violent and extremist groups and empowering communities to resist tyranny and violence. Through education, outreach, and collaboration, the Truth Alliance strives to build a safer, more resilient society for all.

In a campaign tagged ‘Time to Tell the Truth’, the Truth Alliance has come together to expose the truth behind how violent extremist groups draw young people into their ranks. Their message is simple: these groups manipulate, they deceive, they control, they kill, and they destroy the hopes and dreams of people, their families and the communities in which they live.

In a new report, the Alliance has highlighted what we call “the significant revelations about the internal conflicts and growing disenchantment within Boko Haram.” We believe the group’s cohesion and operational effectiveness are weakening, illuminating the underlying vulnerabilities within its ranks.

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The personal testimonies from young insurgents who defected in April provide a disturbing glimpse into the group’s operations and the brutal reality that reveals the truth behind their recruitment practices, which contradict the group’s recruitment propaganda.  This manipulative recruitment strategy targets the most vulnerable, often deceiving them with twisted interpretations of religious texts.

The report also describes how Boko Haram, infamous for its brutal campaign of violence, has long engaged in atrocities, including mass kidnappings, indiscriminate killings, and the exploitation of children as soldiers. However, the growing number of surrenders and defections from Boko Haram indicates a loss of control and diminishing morale among its members.

If we act fast, these internal fractures are critical vulnerabilities that could provide opportunities for regional security forces to capitalise on. This could potentially accelerate the group’s decline and herald exactly what the summit asked for—a new scale of effort to tackle this enduring and terrifying problem facing the people of Nigeria.

*Mustapha is the spokesperson for The Truth Alliance and can be reached via info@truthalliance.org.ng

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OPINION

Manchester City Beat West Ham  To Become First Team To Win English League Title Four Seasons In A Row

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With Manchester City needing a win to be sure of holding off Arsenal, who started the final day two points behind but with a better goal difference, Phil Foden put Pep Guardiola’s side ahead after just two minutes.

The England star added another before the break and although Mohammed Kudus pulled one back, midfielder Rodri restored the home side’s two-goal cushion with a shot from the edge of the area after 59 minutes.

City survived a late scare when West Ham had a second goal ruled out by VAR for handball.

However, their victory was never seriously in doubt

The win completed a staggering run of 19 wins and four draws since their last defeat in the league, at Aston Villa on 6 December.

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City have now won six out of the past seven Premier League titles. Last term, they joined Huddersfield, Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United, twice, in winning the top flight three years in a row.

Now Guardiola’s team have achieved something no other side has managed since the English league was formed in 1888, 136 years ago.

On 25 May they will aim to become the first side to complete the domestic Double in successive seasons when they face Manchesterter United in the FA Cup final at Wembley.

Foden has already collected the Football Writers’ Association and Premier League Player of the Year awards. Few would argue against a clean sweep when the Professional Footballers’ Association eventually confirms theirs.

At 23, Foden now has six titles to his name. He is still a long way behind Ryan Giggs, who holds the record with 13.

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However, it is worth noting Giggs did not achieve his sixth until he was 26 and while the Welshman was 39 when he got his last, given City’s current dominance, Foden is likely to keep chipping away at that total in the short term.

Guardiola feels there is further improvement in the England international, but he has already developed his all-round game, makes better runs with and without the ball, and his close control is sublime.

James Ward-Prowse must have felt he was chasing shadows as he closed in to make a tackle when Bernardo Silva provided Foden with a square pass. But with one touch, Foden ghosted away from the West Ham man before delivering the perfect finish.

There was no real evidence of nerves in the crowd before kick-off. City had not lost at home all season and they had a 100% winning record against West Ham on home soil since Guardiola arrived in 2016 .

The visitors had nothing to play for, manager David Moyes is leaving and top-scorer Jarrod Bowen was ruled out with tonsillitis.

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But any home anxiety that did exist was rapidly swept away.

Foden’s second – his 26th goal of the season – wasn’t long in arriving as Jeremy Doku delivered a slide-rule, square pass through a crowd of bodies to the edge of the six-yard area. Foden was calmness personified in a frantic situation and found the net with a first-time finish.

Only a bit of bad luck and West Ham keeper Alphonse Areola prevented West Ham being completely swept away in the first half hour.

The France keeper turned away De Bruyne’s vicious free-kick, repelled Doku twice and also denied Manuel Akanji. Rodri, Erling Haaland, acrobatically, and Josko Gvardiol all missed the target from reasonably close range.

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