The authority, legitimacy, and trust of any democratic government stem from its demonstrated dedication and commitment to fulfilling basic obligations and promises to its citizens on their well-being, security and welfare. This truth is not lost on President Bola Tinubu, as a progressive democrat, whose belief and faith in democracy as a tool for delivering the public good, is indisputable in the country.

Tinubu’s unwavering commitment to attaining the Sustainable Development Goal of zero hunger through rejigging and building the country on a solid foundation where “hunger, poverty and hardship are pushed into the shadows of the ever fading past” has not waned.

Rather, it’s bolder and gaining more traction with ongoing government implementation of eight priority areas in the 2024 Budget, in addition to the interim social security systems that have been put in place to assuage the sufferings of the people even as the emphasis on reflating the economy is gaining primacy.

The narrative which is gaining ground even within the circle of informed outlets including  as evidenced in its March 5, 2024 editorial titled, “Stop looters, secure food warehouses” is that the well-intended headline economic reforms of the government on fuel subsidy removal and the unification of the foreign exchange rates had triggered the current spiralling food inflation in the country.

No doubt, the National Bureau of Statistics in its latest survey reveals that food and general inflation rose to 37.92 per cent and 31.7 per cent from 24.35 per cent and 29.9 per cent respectively in February. It is a complex mix: one of the fundamentals driving the food crisis in the country is the continued shrinking space for agricultural farming by the small-holder farmers, particularly in the northern states of Sokoto, Kebbi, Benue, Katsina, Zamfara, Niger, Kaduna, and across the country who produce 90 per cent of the total food consumed in the country.

The lethargic and complacent responses in the past to the issues of terrorism, herder/farmer clashes and banditry that literally questioned the existential foundation of the country were the primary causes of the food crisis in the country. The 47.7 per cent crop production output decline recorded in the agricultural sector between 2020 and 2022 was a red flag to a brewing food crisis, accentuated every year by the continued spread of terror in northern Nigeria by Boko Haram.  And across the country, kidnappings, banditry and displacement of families and communities that majorly depended on farming became a daily national ordeal.

According to the International Organisation for Migration, 2,375,661 Internally Displaced Persons were identified from the North-East alone in 2022. Evidently, given this scenario, it was not surprising that the country ranked 107th out of 113 countries globally in the 2022 Food Security Index. An equally damning prediction by FAO, which the President is not treating lightly and working strenuously to avert, is that over 25 million Nigerians may face acute hunger between June and August this year.

However, it’s not all bleak as Tinubu‘s ongoing efforts at cleaning up the Augean stables of past policy inertial and the lack of political will in confronting the security challenges are yielding dividend of improved security in some northern parts of the country and gradually closing the agriculture production output gap created by the shrunken farming space through government interventions in re-integrating and re-settling the over 2, 075,257 returnees that were displaced in some part of northern Nigeria, and equipping and empowering them in forms of loan credit, seeds input and other agricultural support systems.

The external factor further compounding the conundrums of food and insecurity is the new fad of global food export restrictions and ban by countries, ostensibly, a cautionary response to the war in Ukraine, to stabilise their domestic food prices.

As of February 2024, 16 countries had implemented 23 food export bans and eight other countries had emplaced 15 food export-limiting measures which had further pushed the global Food Price Indexes higher. Amply demonstrating that governance is not about playing the ostrich but about confronting challenges doggedly to proffer solutions,  Tinubu declared a state of emergency on food insecurity and also set out policies that are beginning to, in the interim, mitigate the sufferings of Nigerians occasioned by the galloping food inflation, to reflate the economy in the long term.

The interim measures include the release of 42,000 metric tonnes of grains from Nigeria Strategic Reserves for free distribution to the most impacted Nigerians. Modalities for the transparent distribution of the grains are currently being worked out by the Minister of Agriculture and Food Security, Senator Abubakar Kyari, in conjunction with the National Emergency Management Agency and Department of State Services.

In addition, the flag-off of the Dry Season Wheat Farming Initiative to cover 120,000 hectares was launched in November 2023. A similar initiative for rice, cassava and maize to cover a total of 200,000 hectares, targeting 400,000 farmers will soon be launched. The financing of these initiatives is to be jointly borne by the African Development Bank financed $134m National Agricultural Growth Scheme and the Federal Government.

In addition, these efforts are being complemented by the intervention of the Central Bank of Nigeria in providing 2.25 million bags of fertilisers for free distribution to farmers across the country. To guarantee transparency and efficiency, the government is working to clean up and harmonise the Nigeria Farmers Database to rid the agriculture sector of fraudulent “indigenous colonisers.”

All these measures by the Federal Government are not taken in isolation but are all geared towards a national goal of repositioning the agriculture sector to be able to transition into a net exporter of agricultural products as a country. This, however, requires a concomitant zeal, gut and an untainted understanding of the nexus between food security and national security from the sub-national governments with an underlying gusto to sufficiently reassess the security challenges, build a collective consensus around restructuring to give way to state policing, which appears to be a plausible and inevitable route, and hatch an actionable plan to defang kidnapping and banditry in our farms and forests.

The President‘s recent pronouncements on the need for state police and forest guards give the state governments the leeway for state control and management of natural agricultural resources and to rely less on the monthly Federal Account Allocation Committee “handout.”

It is reassuring that the Governor of Niger State, Mohammed Bogo, may have accepted to pick up the gauntlet from Tinubu by boasting to raise the stakes higher to grow and distribute 100,000 metric tonnes of grains by June 2025.

Given that the communities and states are the legitimate custodians of lands in Nigeria, the governor is at liberty to boast, if well forged into reality. But beyond this, it is a constructive and healthy competition, reminiscent of the First Republic era of the Green Revolution between the then federal and regional governments which is necessary now to enable us address the challenges of availability, affordability and accessibility of food in the country.