In any city or town in Nigeria you are likely to find a sign board in some shady corner that announces in a hen scrawl “food is ready.” The roof of the building may be made of mats; the walls may be made of mud or of used loin cloth or bed sheets; the chairs may be in the form of stools or benches. What goes on there may be more important than the shady, lackluster environment. It is a restaurant largely patronised by the underclass. Now that the Nigerian economy has demoted the middle class folks you may also find those who hitherto occupied the enviable top rungs of the economic ladder trooping in there for their meals. This is not an elite restaurant. It is a restaurant for the hoi polloi, the dregs of the society who can eat a plate of afang soup and garri without any meat and use satchet water to flush it down. The economy has reduced the numbers at the top and widened the gap between the top and the bottom. This is easily reflected in what and where people eat today, not only in restaurants but also in their homes. This is a reflection of the food crisis in Nigeria today, a reflection of the depth of hunger that haunts the land.


In the 2023 Global Hunger Index, Nigeria ranks 109th out of 125 countries assessed. With a score of 28.3, the document states that Nigeria has a level of hunger that can be categorized as “serious.” We didn’t even need any survey to tell us that. The reality is there in the country. Groups of people have mounted anti-hunger protests in various cities and towns. Some hungry fellows have also broken into food warehouses and packed the contents away. The number of able-bodied beggars on the streets has increased. Some parents are giving hunger as the excuse for selling or trying to sell their children. For them there is a double advantage in that unusual transaction. The children will be better taken care of by the buyers who are obviously well to do. And the sellers will have some money in their pockets to feed themselves with.

The Global Hunger Index has indicated what it considers to be the major drivers of hunger globally to include conflicts, the climate crisis and the economic consequences of Covid-19 epidemic. In Nigeria the situation is compounded by poverty where it is stated by the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics that 140 million Nigerians are multi-dimensionally poor. Insecurity is also a major cause why farmers are afraid to go to their farms; there has also been a drift, over the years, from the rural areas to the cities as well as a drift from agriculture to quick money making enterprises. Our food crisis situation is a product of our wholesale dependence on crude oil as a means of livelihood. Since crude oil was discovered in 1956 and its export started in 1958 we have failed to pay adequate attention to agriculture and other money-earning assets. This is what is known as resource curse. The discovery of crude oil has become more of a curse than a blessing because it has made us lazy and unwilling to harness other assets that can improve the country’s economic fortune and the living standard of the people. Before crude oil was discovered, Nigeria was managing its resources well in various regions of the country: cocoa in the West, cotton and groundnuts in the North, palm oil and kernels in the East and rubber in the Mid-West region. There was food in abundance, food cultivated by subsistence farmers. Today, we import food, even the sort of food that other countries imported from us in the 50s such as palm oil. Nigeria reportedly spent $43.4 million on the importation of palm oil from Malaysia in the third quarter of 2022. In 2023 we imported 304, 043 metric tonnes of palm oil from Malaysia, a country that collected oil palm seedlings from Nigeria before our independence. Today, Malaysia is a leader in the production of palm oil products.

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In the pre independence days we had agricultural estates with residential quarters in some parts of the country. When oil came these estates disappeared. Today, such estates have remained the backbone of agriculture in Rwanda. We can send a delegation to go and copy from them as if we never had them here before. Today, Israel has only 20% of arable land but it has turned its desert into a land that is flowing with milk and honey. It has transformed its agriculture by the use of drip irrigation. On the other hand, we have a lot of arable land, good weather and a huge population of able-bodied people but we have not been able to transform these assets into prosperity for our country. It is not that we have not tried. President Shehu Shagari started what he called the Green Revolution but it failed. Another of our leaders Olusegun Obasanjo came with Operation Feed the Nation. It caught on because he was a farmer and that gave the programme a lot of credibility but it died when he left office. The truth is that oil boom has been a major impediment to the development of other assets in the country. That is what it has been. That is what it is. No Nigerian leader has had the political will, to truly diversify the country’s economy because oil brings the dollars every month and all the states, local governments and the Federal Government are happy to meet in Abuja to share it and go home. As far as this feeding bottle approach to our economic management goes on we will remain hungry.

What we are talking about is just having food to eat on a daily basis. We are not even referring to the nutrition requirements of the food we eat particularly our children. It is estimated that one in every four children under age 5 is under nourished. That comes to about 129 million children who are undernourished and underweight. Ninety percent of these stunted children live in Africa and Asia and they are likely to develop kwashiorkor and add to their country’s health challenges. A nation that cannot feed itself including its children is on the way to Golgotha. In its Sustainable Development Goals the United Nations has decreed that there should be zero hunger by 2030. That deadline is only six years away and there is no visible evidence that that target will be met by Nigeria or by many of the countries in Africa.

Nigeria must develop a multi-pronged strategy for food security. These strategies must be short term and long term. For the present the government must embark on food importation to meet the immediate needs of the populace; the state and Federal Governments must fix access roads in the rural communities so that food can be easily conveyed from the rural areas where they are produced to the urban areas where they are needed. Our youths and women must be given some incentives to go into farming particularly now that there are no white collar jobs available in abundance. The various governments must make massive investment in agricultural technology. The era of using just the back breaking hoe and matchet is gone. There are quite a number of appropriate technological equipments produced in China which are suitable for use in developing countries. Some Chinese, Indians and Malaysians are already in various parts of the country doing farming. There should be an increase in such collaboration with Nigerians.

The poor man or woman in today’s Nigeria is in a very difficult situation. He can only hope for a quick solution to the food problem. So basically hope is his bread today. It is his eba. It is his rice. For him food is not ready. Only those who are well to do can say that food is ready at the food-is-ready restaurant aka mama put or at any other restaurant, low brow or high brow.

There is an English proverb that says that appetite comes with eating. Yes, that is true, but it is also true that appetite comes with starving. When anyone engages in fasting, he finds out that when it is time to break the fast he will feel like eating anything and everything under the sun. If there is nothing with which to assuage the hunger, then anger comes to the fore because hunger and anger are blood relations, they are cousins. That is why that anger is being spooled in several cities today in Nigeria and some parts of the world.

I urge the Federal Government in conjunction with the State Governments to declare an emergency on food security. The food crisis is partly a product of the insecurity crisis. It can also be said that the high level of insecurity is also a product of the food crisis. It is the chicken and egg story. Which one comes first. If we solve one we will partially solve the other and we can then proudly say, with a full stomach, that food is ready.