By Fatima Akilu
I have often thought that of the many wonders and gifts our country possesses, there is none greater than the gift of food. It is the single factor that has kept us from imploding as politicians, public servants and the privileged one percent who plunder the country's resources and devour her bowels. The country, though teetering on the brink, has just about kept herself on a frail ledge.
Millions of citizens surviving on less than a dollar a day have found ingenious ways to fill their bellies. Some have begged, others have rummaged through the waste that others discard, some are fed from the bounties of neighbours, kinsmen or relatives.
Bellies have been lined and lives temporarily saved. The majority do not directly die from hunger; their enemy is malnutrition and disease, a lethal cocktail of eating nutrient-deficient and often putrid food. Still we slept peacefully at night, believing that the problems of our masses were tucked away far from our elevated walls and wrought iron gates. Theirs were lives to be pitied, but glanced at from the end of a long narrow telescope.
So arrogant was our belief in the superiority of our lives, elevated from the normal rules of society, that we believed privilege could be enjoyed without responsibility. A two-tier society was created with different rules of access to the basic necessities of existence.
For those with lined pockets there was a passport to tier one Nigeria, where they could access basic services or buy them, while for the rest, life was a jungle and habitation was reminiscent of the dark ages. People were reduced to living like rodents, in dark tunnels, with no prospect of achieving a single aspiration.
Sentenced in their own countries to a life of medieval servitude and horror, surrounded by filth and diseases abandoned by their own people, most live and die in a decaying cesspit that are called villages and communities.
The only thing they consistently had access to was food. People for decades borrowed from the informal food banks that where provided through the bounty of others, or simply from the small crops that they were able to cultivate in their backyard.
A gruesome story told to me last week has illustrated at least to me that that final carpet of protection that the elite believe they have bought, albeit through graft, that sets them apart from the rest of the people is now frayed, probably beyond repair. My niece told me the unfortunate tale of a visit she took to my adopted state of Katsina, where she was taken to visit a young family.
A woman and her two children, who were sick, but they were not suffering from our common affliction of malaria, typhoid, cholera or polio; they were sick simply because they were hungry. The little boy of 5 reduced to bare bones was taken to a local hospital where he was immediately placed on a drip. Two days later he had died having drowned in excess fluids, from our excuse of a clinic. A week later his brother was also dead.
This is a country that boasts of being the number four or five exporter of oil, a country that has last experienced nationwide drought in the 1970, a country with more natural mineral reserves than all the other countries of West Africa combined. It is now also a country where citizens are beginning to starve to death.
Over the years some of the markers that have distinguished us are our great capacity for denial, our inability to track and watch social trends and total lack of capacity to plan for a future that extends beyond one sunset.
With eyes shut tight many will continue to cling to dubious belief that we are special and obstinately refuse to change course. The culture of business as usual is so seductive, due to its bountiful rewards for the few.
However, we can continue on the same path and turn a blind eye to our hospitals, schools, roads, water and sewer systems, our air and land transport facilities and absorb the huge human casualties on our ever- expanding broad shoulders. We can block out the sight of our decrepit towns and crumbling villages behind our Chanel sunglasses, and use our Balmain suits and Hermes bags as comfortable pillows that surround our beds when we sleep.
We can continue to fly to the UK to buy our groceries, earning us the dubious distinction of being amongst that country’s highest spenders; in short we can continue to behave in the same diabolical manner we have been doing. We can continue to operate as citizens with neither conscience nor empathy, but I think the writing is now on the wall. It is no longer written in invisible ink.
People will continue to die from illness and disease and road accidents and attribute it to God’s will, but there is not a single person who goes to sleep hungry that will believe it is the will of the Almighty that they have nothing to eat. When families start to actually die in peace time due to lack of access to the most basic of our human necessities, then, the rules of the game will forever change.
It is not too late to stop and think. Providing food is one of the most simple and basic obligations of a government to its people: it must provide the conditions that ensure that people have access to food. For those who have enough to eat, it is their duty as a human being to give what they are unable to consume to those who have none; even beasts do no less.
Before we enter into one of the darkest phases of our history, a period where no one will escape unharmed, we need to look carefully at the meaning of our lives and summon enough moral indignation to say NO, not on our watch. Not in a 21st century nation. Regardless of all the challenges currently bedevilling us, no one should be dying in our country today for lack of access to food. It is a disgrace and I am thoroughly ashamed.