Reading between the lines
Do a country’s citizens get happier when slowly but surely propaganda is replacing essence of governance? Certainly ‘no’ you might say. But that appears to be the new face of politics in recent times as hardly a day passes without politicians exchanging banters and smile over their deceptive political comments about one government achievement or a programme designed to solve once and for all the problems facing Nigeria. The political language among government officials is quite disheartening especially as it is usually tainted with a moisture of lies. It was Sir Henry Wotton’s wisdom that defined an Ambassador as an honest gentleman sent to lie abroad for the good of his country. Likewise, are ministers in Nigeria honest gentlemen and women appointed to lie to the Nigerian people for the good of the ruling government?
Many a time it seem as though a minister’s job is a kind of glorified marketing executive for the government in power. Therefore, you must not fall for the sycophancy of the minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Mohammed Nanono who the other day at a briefing on the 2019 World Food Day described Nigeria as one of the few lucky nations in the world with high food security. He said: “I think we are producing enough to feed ourselves. I think there is no hunger in Nigeria. There is good inconveniences when people talk about hunger in this government I just laugh…” Excellent comment you might want to call it if you are a government apologist. It is absolutely shameful to hear a minister speak in such a manner even in the face of the struggling economy and the high debt burden bedeviling the nation. Of course, poverty and unemployment figures grow higher daily and the lingering insecurity crisis across the country keep investors at bay, among others.
Indeed, the minister’s position is not only wrong in principle, it lacked ethics. I think it is a political misadventure that will cost the ruling party billions if not trillions in the currency of trust among Nigerians. Nigerians should not ignore an indisputable fact that politicians in this part of the clime do have a language problem even as they careless about the consequences of their comments. In essence, politicians’ careless to reason in line and understand the peoples’ feelings allows themselves an opportunity to be arrogantly rude as they mock at the peoples’ lamentations, just like Nanono said that he usually burst into laughter hearing people complain of hunger. The act of political sycophancy among public officials leaves wounds that may never heal in the heart of the people even as it makes the government look insensitive towards the people’s plight.
Understandably, much of the focus in the aftermath of Nanono’s comment shows that he is on the wrong page of history. Nigeria is far from being food-secure from indices available on various commodities in Nigeria despite the abundant resources. According to Professor Bamidele Omitoyin, former Dean of Renewable Natural Resources, University of Ibadan. The minister’s claim on food security to quote professor Omitoyin ”…is not correct. What are the indices? Data from all sub-sectors shows that we are not sufficient. Over 160 million Africans are malnourished and Nigeria accounts for over 40 per cent. Daily, millions of people beg for food in Nigeria. We have the potentials to produce enough food but it has not translated to realities”.
Perhaps government and its officials believe that taking a positive stance on certain issues with a taint of lie can improve the country’s material circumstances. Government cannot pretend it does not know the truth about the state of food-security and hunger in the nation currently. The population has ballooned in recent decades and several statistics have revealed that Nigeria is about 200 million in population. Regrettably however, food production is not sufficient enough for the number of mouths that desires a bit to keep the citizens out of hunger. Farming has been discouraged by government since the advent of crude oil. Especially at a point in time in the early days of oil boom when it was said that money was not Nigeria’s problem but how to spend it.
Today, with oil seemingly bringing more curse than blessing, the ruling party has fashioned out a crusade to make agriculture as an alternative channel to boost the nation’s economy. This effort to a large extent seems to be better said than done because regrettably, agriculture has not been very encouraging due to several factors both seen and unforeseen. For instance, farmers’ difficulty in securing soft loans, the serious challenge of climate change, farmers/herders persistent conflicts and insecurity arising from banditry and Boko Haram insurgency have further threatened farming that people are no longer interested to cultivate the land. There is no doubt that Nigeria is not anywhere close to food security. Yet, government and its officials continue to romanticise the issue about food security with pride and assurance that all is well. Of course, such misleading posture allows the minister of Agriculture to argue perhaps blindly that: “The migration of our people in the West African sub-region to other countries would have even doubled if it was not providing the right amount of food”. There is perhaps no greater testimony to the crisis of lucidity of government and its officials than the claim by Nanono as it reveals an obvious pretentious character of the ruling government.
Over the years, several sound-bites for which previous administrations tried to make the nation achieve food security have come and gone without achieving the much desired goals. Worst still, continuity remains a far cry as incoming administrations believe only in their own goals and objectives. For instance, operation feed the nation (OFN) was former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s government pet programme as a military Head of State. While Second Republic President Shehu Shagari introduced Green Revolution programme, of all these programmes none was continued at the end of the government’s tenure that introduced it. The trend of abandoning previous government programmes is a common tradition across the states and local government areas in the country. Such irresponsible leadership action that allows elephant and uncompleted projects scatter across the country must be seen to stop because it is a waste of tax payer’s money.
Government policy on food production or any programme so designed to uplift the people from harsh condition should not only be encouraged: it must be a continuum. In addition, if the ruling party truly believes in meeting its target on food security, it must find ways to make farming very exciting and lucrative. To achieve this, government should lead by example by not only going into farming but also assisting their farmers with soft loans and create market for farm produce. More important, farmers should be encouraged to produce greater variety of food items so as to make the nation a food basket for Africa.
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