Kristi Pelzel is a Senior White House correspondent for Today News Africa in Washington D.C. Kristi also covers the US Department of State and the United Nations. She holds a master’s degree from Georgetown University.
According to the World Food Program, Nigeria’s acute food insecurity crisis has been increasing over the past two years and shows no signs of stopping. Internal conflicts between ethnic and religious groups, terrorism, inflation, low oil prices, corruption, and climate change have all been aggravated by the secondary impacts of COVID-19.
Insurgency displaced more than 2 million Nigerians in 2020, mainly in the north. And where humanitarian access is constrained, the food aid situation further deteriorates. Abadam, Dikwa, Guzamala, Kukawa, and Marte have been inaccessible, placing those towns at significant risk for famine.
The food situation is nothing new for Nigeria and some experts, like Dr. Sylvanus Ayeni, author of “Rescue thyself: Change in Sub-Saharan Africa must come from within,” say that it’s preventable. Nigeria has all the natural resources it needs to not only feed itself but neighboring countries too. It’s all a matter of a mindset shift.
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In an exclusive interview with Today News Africa, Kristi Pelzel, Senior Reporter, and co-panelist Mason Witzler discussed the upcoming United Nations Food Summit and the founding principles of self-sustainability, which can help African nations rescue themselves, with Dr. Sylvanus Ayeni.
“The creator has endowed nations with sufficient natural resources, talents, and capabilities to develop themselves and their societies,” said Dr. Ayeni. And that statement applies explicitly to the agricultural and oil-rich country of Nigeria.
Although the concept of creating self-sustainability may apply to all of the African nations, its application to the world’s most insecure countries is of critical importance. Nigeria is in the top half of the most insecure countries, with an estimated 13 million people experiencing daily hunger.
The UN has warned that Nigeria is on the brink of a major food crisis. Last week, Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari said, “It is imperative that there be water transfer to Lake Chad from the Congo Basin so people can resume their normal lives.” Lake Chad has lost more than 90% of its original size and affected more than 30 million people, and negatively impacted farming and fishing.
As the UN Food Pre-Summit approaches, Nigeria will likely be lobbying for more extensive donor commitments. President Buhari has already said refilling and maintaining Lake Chad will be a costly project and require “financial institutions and other partners.”
Dr. Ayeni passionately stated during the video interview with Today News Africa that “Nigeria is rich with more than enough natural resources to feed its 200 million-plus inhabitants. Despite this, Nigeria continually falls short of sustainable food security. Fundamentally, this is a direct result of core systemic failures which include; massive corruption, poor governance, and leadership, and above all, a cannot do mindset of the leaders.”
Poor governance and corruption is a nexus preventing the sustainable economic and agricultural development of Nigeria. Of corruption, Dr. Ayeni said that monies that should have gone to develop agriculture, upgrade infrastructure, setup and maintain modern food systems have been stolen and spent frivolously. The key, he said, is a 180-degree shift in mindset.
In 2018 USAID gave $197.3 million USD in ‘Food for Peace’ contributions, and in 2019 USAID gave $200.9 million USD, but just $40.0 million USD in 2020. However, the total US foreign aid to Nigeria in 2020 was more than $720 million USD, and that’s just accounting for Nigeria’s most generous partner, not including other global partners that gave.
When you look at the money that comes into the country combined with the internal conflicts between ethnic and religious groups, terrorism, inflation, low oil prices, corruption, and climate change, you start to see the argument for a mindset shift. A shift that goes from self-service to honest to goodness public service where the greater good of all is placed before the interests of few.