Food security is an essential part of social wellbeing and social security, the absence of which results in health harms, severe social crisis, delayed development in young children and behavioural problems such as anxiety and aggression in kids through their formative years. Due to food poverty, many Nigerians and households have difficulties accessing sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet dietary requirements for a healthy life. The effects of food poverty are represented by a spectrum of severity, including the negative consequences on elections, governance and development processes. When people experience severe food insecurity for a long period of time, due to various reasons such as lack of food or fund, it affects them physically, mentally and psychologically.
Perhaps, from the first franchise in Nigeria, vote inducement has remained a core challenge of our voting system, with a varying scale in every election cycle. For some reasons, the forthcoming general elections may not be an exception, and the reasons are not far-fetched: the major drivers of food poverty have widened and multidimensional poverty broadened. Given that the bulk of native voters in Nigeria’s general elections reside in the rural areas where food poverty is at its peak, it remains a daunting challenge in curtailing the negative effect of hunger in our elections. A hungry voter can hardly make an informed choice at the poll, as it has a direct influence on the voting pattern of the pauperised electorate.
It is not enough to be a voter; an uninformed, uneducated and illiterate voter is as much a danger to democracy as an indifferent citizen. Is it then possible to properly educate our kids with empty stomachs? Even the devil knows the obvious answer. We must end food poverty to improve literacy and advance the quality and sanctity of our general will. When hunger drives our children to the street, most of them become easy instruments for social vices and violence.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation noted that as of September 2022, about 20 million children were out of school in Nigeria. This figure is widening and unless the gap is closed, illiteracy and poverty will continue to be major drivers of irregularities in our elections. Vote buying thrives as a means of compromising the electoral process because there are unemployable voters that can afford to sell their votes at the slightest chance.
With 133 million Nigerians reported by the National Bureau of Statistics to be multidimensionally poor, reflecting 63 per cent of Nigerian populations, the incidence of vote buying may increase in the coming general elections, notwithstanding the Central Bank of Nigeria’s new naira note policy. It is as a result of these prevailing issues of poverty, vote buying and the negative impact on our electoral process that the Executive Director, YIAGA Africa, Samson Itodo, opined that, “it shows that they (politicians) are not lifting anybody out of poverty. So, the only way they could keep winning is to make people poor and to use vote buying to secure victory at all cost.”
Since hunger affects citizens’ political choices, governments’ social security policies must be targeted at lifting more citizens out of poverty line, rather than widening and weaponising poverty as a political strategy. Nigeria needs more legal frameworks on food rights, healthy and nutritional food security. Given that food security falls under the Concurrent Legislative List, the responsibility of articulating and implementing food security and nutritional solutions must be on all tiers of government, from the local government to the Federal Government.
In tackling food poverty, we must focus on a broad set of enduring solutions that will save many people from the risks of certain nutritional deficiencies, resulting from lack of balanced diets. Merely eating to survive is different from eating the right foods that can help maintain and improve one’s health. Poor health conditions are also another form of disfranchisement. If many voters are unable to exercise their franchise due to health conditions, it affects electoral outcomes. Improving the quality of food for poor Nigerians is even more important for those with special needs, like people under government’s care in different Internally Displaced Persons camps across Nigeria.
My experience in Maiduguri, Borno State, when a charity foundation fed 7000 inmates at the EYN CAN Centre IDP, showed that many people at the low belt of life can hardly afford to eat mere food, let alone nutritional and balanced diet. We must do more to ensure that hunger is conquered in a sustainable, healthy and productive way. Beyond the impact of the works of such a foundation, governments at all levels must prioritise productivity in the agricultural value chain to ensure that no one is left hungry and none is unable to eat healthy food.