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Food Scarcity: Perils Ahead

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Vincent Ochonma

The current storm of food scarcity across the world is increasingly drawing a fresh attention to the postulation of the English clergyman and economist, Thomas Malthus over 200 years ago.
In his words: “assuming then my postulation as granted, that the power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man. Population when unchecked, increases in a geometrical ratio. Subsistence only increases in an arithmetical ratio…”.
In the same vein, Paul Ehrich stated years ago that the world will undergo famines – hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death in spite of any crash programme embarked upon now.
But because of the tremendous agricultural and industrial changes made during the 19th century, such as the discovery of new mineral resources, improvement in transportation which allowed for more efficient trade and remarkable increase in crop yields, especially in the developed world, the early scholars’ predictions were either neglected or rejected.
Today, with the serious imbalance between the world population and material resources, the predictions are being resurrected. The global population has risen from 4.4 billion in 1980 to about 6.5 billion in 2007. By 2050, it is estimated that the world population will hit nine billion.
Apparently, the 50% food production increase is not catching up with the population explosion. Thus, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Programme; 854 million people do not have enough food for active and healthy life.
Faced with rising food prices which have made basic staples such as rice, corn, wheat, and soya bean unaffordable for many people, experts say that the worst is yet to come.
Already, the food crisis situation has, in recent times, triggered revolts and instability in many parts of the world including Egypt, Indonesia, Pakistan, Mauritania, Mozambique, Senegal, the Ivory Coast, Cameroun, and Haiti where a crowd of hungry citizens once marched through Port-au-Prince throwing stones and bottles and chanting, “we are hungry.”
But why have food prices continued to gallop? The factors responsible for the soaring food prices are numerous. They include global warming, population explosion and general food scarcity. Others are bad weather in key food producing countries, the increase in land allocated to bio-fuels, and wars which have made millions of people in refugee camps dependent on food aid.
In the particular case of Nigeria, the food crisis is not a recent phenomenon. It began as agriculture ceased to be a leading sector in the country’s economy, following the discovery of oil and the subsequent boom arising from its products. While the contribution of agriculture to the GDP amounted to 65.39 per cent up till the early 1960s, it declined to 34.06 per cent between 1973 and 1974. And since then, it has continued to drop abysmally.
Even with several programmes and policies, it has been very difficult to effect meaningful changes in agricultural production in the country.
In 2008, President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua set up a ministerial committee under the chairmanship of Vice President Goodluck Jonathan to find a solution to the increasing prices of wheat and wheat flour. And a plan was made to release, at appropriate intervals, grains from strategic reserve so as to meet any expected shortfall and reduce the prices of staples in the country.
To meet food security challenges for a period of four years, according to media reports, government also mapped out 16 different strategies including promotion of large scale commercial agriculture between 500 and 3000 hectares, encouragement of formation of specialised co-operative societies, development of agricultural land mapping programme and self-sufficiency plans for food crops, production of fertilisers in the country, and the rehabilitation of degraded irrigation infrastructure under the Rivers Basin and Rural Development Authorities to ensure all-season farming.
In spite of these efforts, the fact is that the subsistence type of agriculture which is characterised by low productivity still predominates. Food production statistics are not available. Credit is difficult to obtain. Illiteracy is high and infrastructure is lacking. And worse still, it is hard to assess the desire or willingness of Nigerians to respond to increased agricultural production.
In the face of these constraints, the unsettled question to be addressed is; what does it take the country to rise above its food crisis?
It has become clear from historical experience that success depends on partnership between government and the people. It is the people who try out new crops or invest in agricultural projects. They do this whenever incentives are present.
Government at all levels must recognise that food production is a major priority item that calls for definite policies and programmes. In such policies and programmes, it should be emphasised that government must provide basic infrastructure, establish production credit banks, build mechanisation centre (for supply of machinery, insecticides, and fertilisers), as well as providing technical advice to farmers.
Provision should also be made for the development of agricultural research base which will be essential in the generation of new technology and ideas for agricultural production.
Food production research must be developed for mainly two groups, namely the small-scale farmers and the large-scale commercial farmers.
The small-scale farmers require improved technology that is useful for them, because they will perhaps continue to feed the rural population. Meanwhile, modern commercial agriculture must also be developed in the country to feed its increasing population.

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Opinion

What Hope For Security In Nigeria?

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On April 14, 2014, when a group of terrorists abducted over 200 school girls in a government school in Chibok, Bornu State, Nigerians described it as the height of terrorism in the country. Little did they realize that it was going to be a repeated verse in a whole booklet of their trouble tale.
Although there had been killings of innocent people, especially students and pupils before the April 14, 2014 abduction saga, the world’s attention that greeted the abduction story gave Nigeria out as a nation in trouble.
Of course, we initially thought that if the United States of America could single-handedly mastermind the execution of the former al-Qaeda leader, Osama Bin Laden, who held the world to a standstill, then nothing should stop the coalition of US, France, Israel and other countries to help put an end to terrorism in Nigeria. How wrong we are!
What has beaten the imaginations of many Nigerians today is the inability of this coalition of world power and their subordinates to actually arrest the situation and help secure the release of the abducted girls from the claws of their abductors.
What further baffles many people is the gradual loss of concern about the rescue of the remaining school girls. What could have weakened the morale of our foreign helpers in this situation and what is Nigerian government doing to stop the endless killings across the country?
The dawn of each day seems to herald one mindless killing or the other either by the Boko Haram insurgents or the Fulani herdsmen.
What started like a child’s play few years ago, is now firmly rooted in the country so much that uprooting it is now seemingly impossible.
Agreed that our enemies took us unaware by virtue of their position as insiders, one still expects that having received the first, second and third blows from the so-called enemies, we should be finding our feet by now and not exposing ourselves to further blows and danger.
Given the state of insecurity in Nigeria at the moment, stories about herdsmen killings and terrorists attacks in Nigeria are no longer news again. What rather makes it news worthy is the number of casualties involved in every attack.
Amidst numerous bombings that had taken place ever since the insurgents pitched their tent on the soil of Nigeria, the Nyanya Market bombing, rated as one-too-many, saw Nigerians literally crying out their eyes. The attack on Ayar Mbalom Community in Gwer East Local Government Area of Benue State was another. The attack, allegedly carried out by Fulani herdsmen, claimed the lives of two priests and 17 other worshippers.
As usual, President Muhammadu Buhari has reiterated his government’s resolve to continue to take every step to put an end to these reprehensible acts of terrorism. But isn’t that an old same song that Nigerians are used to? Can a soldier enthrone peace when he is not prepared for war?
What I do not understand is what interest is being protected that up till now, we have refused to take the bull by the horn, or is the bull more powerful than we are? Justice delayed can never be said to be preserved. Or is it when there are no more lives and property to secure that we can say we now have security in the land?
Nothing can be more treasurable and valuable than the lives of the citizens of a country which the government owes a duty to protect. I think the solution to this problem is for President Buhari to declare total war on these militia masquerading as herdsmen and Boko Haram, as well as effect a change in the leadership of all the security agencies in the country.
Naabura wrote from Bori, Rivers State.

 

Precious Naabura

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Opinion

Fifth Columnists And National Crises

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While efforts are being made to identify where we are getting things wrong and how to build up a stable nation, it is needful that sincere Nigerians who are deeply perceptive should speak up occasionally. Let us not call Chief Olusegun Obasanjo a mischief monger or describe him as playing to the gallery; rather, he is a whistle blower. At his age and with his vast knowledge about Nigeria, he deserves the listening ears of honest and sincere Nigerians.
The issue of a preponderance of mischief makers and fifth columnists in all spheres of life in Nigeria should not be taken lightly. Many of those who engage in such activities make some personal gains, while some others do so as a regular life-style or to spite others. Far back in 1963, some perceptive Nigerians saw a glimpse of some hidden agenda in an emerging independent Nigeria. The fear of ethnic domination was an issue; so also the feeling of vulnerability and the issue of manpower equalization. Mutual suspicion followed.
The situation led to the retention of some foreign consultants and advisers and the formation of political parties that pursued regional rather than national agenda. Specifically, a statement by the captain of a ship threw some light into what was going on in the first four years after independence. There was a joke about “who shook the ship in the night”. A ship that was moored between Brass and Akasa had a female occupant which brought about some gossip. The captain said: “those of you who think that Hausa and Fulani people are stupid because they are silent, would soon know who the stupid people really are”.
There were similar snippets here and there across the country, such that the military coup of 1966 became a culminating point. The event also provided an opportunity for foreign consultants and advisers to warn that it was a part of the “domination process”, thus leading to a misconception of what really happened. Since then, there has been the strategy of planting private ears and fifth columnists everywhere, to guard against being “taken by surprise”.
Maybe it would be wrong to suggest “Fulanisation agenda” but it would be necessary to explain the motives and strategies of the operations of fifth columnists. The University of Ibadan campus would have been a boiling point of religious conflict some decades ago, but for the timely intervention of some patriotic Nigerians. The issue is that aggressive religious proselytisation can take the form of combat, resulting in animosity and fanatical self-righteousness, both in campuses and the wider society.
Despite the existence of security and intelligence agencies, there are fifth columnists operating a cryptocracy under private sponsorship. Some people had complained that they had borne” unprovoked abuses and noise-making” for too long and demanding “tactical mellowing down of the trend”. Sponsors of parallel informants range from religious, to political and other interest groups, using various means to find solutions.
It was not long after complaints about aggressive proselytism and a plea for intervention by some interest groups, that military President Ibrahim Babangida made the Moslem world to welcome Nigeria into the family of the Organisation of Islamic Conference. Religious issues often bordering on sentiments feature high in the activities of fifth columnists, sometimes spreading information that can be alarmist and mostly false. Similarly the unguarded statements of some religious leaders rarely help matters. It becomes hard to know wolves from lands!
Former President Goodluck Jonathan had a taste of the activities of fifth columnists whereby some of those that he trusted as friends and party loyalists turned out to betray him at last. Officiousness on the part of such crafty persons whose zeal and smart talks often fuel national crises, can make it hard for their associates to know that they have some hidden motives. Chief Olusegun Obasanjo despite his military background had also been bamboozled by some of those he had believed were close friends.
The issue of Fulanisation is the issue of the ability of apparently docile, silent, illiterate and enigmatic people, to penetrate into the stronghold of supposedly learned, clever and arrogant people who often under-rate the intelligence of other people. One of the principles of under-cover operations is to play the fool and never give away what your true nature is. The movement began long ago and Obasanjo knew it.
Dr. Amirize is a retired lecturer from the Rivers State University, Port Harcourt.

 

Bright Amirize

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Opinion

Should Power Privatisation Be Revoked?

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There are several indices currently calling on the Federal Government to quickly revoke the said Privatization Policy of the Power Sector.
First is the persistent power outage. The steady increase in demand for electric power  without its equivalent supply has resulted in a consistent power failure. Currently, more  communities and cities are lamenting such persistent power outage
With a population approximated at 180 million people, according to the National Bureau of Statistics, obsolete KVA lines traversing several kilometers, as well as old and ill-maintained equipment are still used. It is therefore not out of place that the constant breakdown of such overused equipment; poor maintenance culture and a huge managerial inefficiency are already waging war against some top beneficiaries of the said privatization policy.
While they remained adamant at depriving the public of electric power and losing investors on a daily basis, couple with their failure to offer adequate electricity supply for both local businesses as well as domestic consumption, the cry  of most small and medium-scale business owners could play out in the current debate against the so-called privatization agreement.
Secondly, investors who have benefitted from the said privatization policy appeared to have failed woefully in keeping to the agreement that gave rise to their services. Since the formation of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), The Independent Regulatory Agency,  as provided in the Electric Power Sector Reform Act (2005) were assigned with the task of  issuing licences to individuals who were ready to operate within clearly stipulated terms, as well as operating guidelines.
Owners of the distribution companies who keyed into the  terms and conditions that gave rise to such  public services were to be guided by their integrity, honesty and responsibility. Not only were they expected to meet the growing demand of Nigerians in the area of power distributions, but also to ensure that all conditions necessary for a smooth flow of their relationship with the public were satisfied.
But today, the reverse appears to be the case. One would wonder if the shortcomings in their service should be attributed to  the Federal Government failing to keep its own side of the agreement or, if the blame should now be shared between them and the public.
But sad enough, the key private players in the Power Sector appear not to be responsive to the outcry of the public; but  seem to have  remained  rather incurably addicted to persistent power outage; constant disagreement between their workers and the end consumers while they continue to offer dissatisfied services to individuals, corporate organizations and public ventures.
Again, several years have witnessed their inability to address  not only the high monthly electricity bills, but also the decree of fluctuations involved in the bills. Industrial and domestic consumers have continued to lament the persistent hike witnessed in their monthly electricity bills.
In this regard, their actions appear to have eaten up the primary aim of privatization, and the aim of providing for more efficiency and alleviate the electricity burden on the poor consumers appears to have been woefully defeated. Even in some quarters where individuals from  some Electricity Distribution offices would still present some monthly electric bills to innocent consumers who have witnessed total blackout all through the  said month, the agony and plight of such end-consumers appear to have received less publicity in the media.
Another area of concern is the high cost of meters as well as the process and several barriers one must suffer in order to get a meter. The chances of procuring a meter and having them installed should be re-examined since the electricity meters are responsible for reading and establishing the billing circle and it’s used to quantify the precise amount of energy consumed within a specific period of time.
Yet, key players in the sectors appear inactive in their responsibility of allocating and installing these meters on request. Since 2013 when the private sector took over part of the task of supplying meters to the final consumers, the huge metering gap seems not to have been narrowed.
This has resulted in the inability of the sector to regulate between the consumption rate and the exact amount the suppliers of electricity would need in order to remain in business.
Persistent public views have proved that the so-called giants of power distribution have remained reluctant in measuring the actual electricity consumption per kilowatt hour. Consequently, in some quarters, individuals have continued to witness huge electricity bills on monthly basis.
Despite several legislation aimed at averting this hurtful trends, end-users have continued to suffer wrongly since they have not truly been liberated from this huge plight.
Today, it appears that the problems facing the Power Sector has worsen than it was before the Privatization Policy was initiated, and individuals who have been so quiet and patient are now calling for a total overhauling of the said Privatization Policy.
Now that their failure is greater than what they themselves could imagine, and the innocent eyes of meaningful individuals, organizations, corporate bodies and public functions can now  see through, one would want to ask whether  the present administration should be more proactive and forceful at reviewing and revoking the Privatization Agreement on Power Distribution, or remain indifferent?

 

John James

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