Last month, Kano, by far Northern Nigeria’s most commercially important city, threw up one of Nigeria’s most heart-wrenching paradoxes. This time, the paradox was of the gloomiest shades, one which strikes at the heart of the official “un-governance” that is fast becoming a contemporary Nigerian reality. (To be sure, from Lagos through Abuja, we seem to be moving away from misgovernance—the act of governing a country or state badly—to un-governance, the more pathetic condition of official “do-nothing-ness”!)
Speaking at a one-day stakeholders meeting organised by UNICEF for the Dissemination of Baseline Survey findings for Dietary Diversity Project, in Kano, the Chief of United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Nutrition Section in Nigeria, Simeon Nanama, said a survey by the organisation revealed that Kano State has the highest number of malnourished children in the Country.
Apparently, Mr Nanama knew not about the famed N30 bufffet, said to be the defining symbol of Nigeria’s food sustainability effort in the heart of the very same Kano, as made public by Nigeria’s agriculture minister, Sabo Nanono. Or, perhaps, if he did, he chose to amplify what he considered a fact-based, data-driven reality without thinking about the damage it could do to a previously propagated “fact-tion”. But establishing the context of Mr Nanono’s thesis is equally important, really.
Speaking at a news conference in Abuja as part of the activities to mark the 2019 World Food Day being celebrated internationally on Oct. 16, Mr Nanono said Nigeria is producing enough to feed itself, contrary to the narrative in some quarters that there is hunger in the land.
Now, although there are no reputable media reports authenticating this, Mr Nanono was equally credited with a comment which affirmed that with a meagre N30, one can feed himself to satisfaction in Kano. In effect, as apocryphal as it sounds, the statement fits perfectly into the thought process that produced the earlier statements credited to the minister in the media.
Of course, the idea that the viral statement may be apocryphal becomes a nullity when placed against the minister’s demeanour when asked to substantiate the “N30 claim” in another press conference a week or so after his legendary pronouncement.
The Guardian reported that when Mr Nanono had a Town Hall meeting with farmers and stakeholders in Kano, he insisted he would not comment on the controversial “N30 meal” claim. Anyone with even a faint understanding of how officialdom works in Nigeria would know that the statement is, by default, near-true. In any case, it is not unusual for officials of government to make propagandistic statements and then implore journalists not to quote them, with claims that the claims are “off-the-record”. The intent is often crystal clear to the discerning: disrupt public thinking and perhaps influence the opinion of the less discerning while refusing to be held responsible for the import of such often disingenuous claims. When we talk about the deployment of this tactic under this administration, apart from the official propaganda arms of the government, individuals in charge of the ministry of agriculture have been particularly outstanding.
In recent years, the Nigerian government has shown this unusually fascinating interest in the Agriculture Ministry. This it has done by ensuring that equally fascinating characters are charged with the responsibility of managing it. Not a few Nigerians would forget easily the immediate past minister, Audu Ogbeh. Vocal, disruptive, revolutionary… that Ogbeh—-he of the Indonesia/China/Taiwan collapsing rice mills legend. It was then a huge surprise that the man considered the symbol of longevity in Nigeria’s governance space did not make it back to the “Next Level” cabinet, despite his huge contributions to the collapse of global rice mills. Nigerians would not forget him quite in a hurry, especially those obsessed with London pizza. Then came Mr Nanono.
Yet the problem of Nigerian officials’ aloofness and insensitivity to the plight of ordinary Nigerians didn’t start with and is quite bigger than Nanono.
As politician and Minister of Transportation under Shehu Shagari between 1979 and 1983, Umaru Dikko loomed large and acted as the de facto president. Some say he was more powerful than Mr. Shagari, a claim that made his opinion on issues of governance quite important. Mr. Dikko headed the presidential task force on rice importation, a role that came with much power as Nigeria faced one of its worst economic conditions characterised by widespread hunger and unprecedented inflation. Dejavu?
Then once, at the height of serious economic affliction, Mr. Dikko claimed ignorance of hunger since Nigerians were not “eating from the dustbin”. The statement would haunt him till his death in June 2014.
Today, about four clear decades after Dikko’s verbal gymnastic, Mr Nanono, a man charged with ensuring food sustainability, relying on extensive research and rare data, suggests that N30 guarantees a buffet in Kano and, in effect, other parts of Nigeria. Well, it is not the duty of SATIRE SATURDAY to edit his intent and put it out that he only meant that the meal is for a dog, and not human. In any case, some dogs are better fed than many Nigerians anyway, and that’s the inconvenient truth Mr Nanono may have let out.
So in effect, Nanono has shown that we haven’t really moved past Dikko. In other words, we may have travelled four decades in our leadership journey but in reality, we may not have moved past January 1979.
But to single out Nanono’s statement and chastise the honest minister without an appropriate appraisal of the leadership culture that threw him up is to be disingenuous. Mr Nanono’s honest declaration is what you’d see if you look carefully through the mirror of the Nigerian reality: it is what you’d see if you find out what passes for “dinner” for a random family in Ajegunle if placed against the details of “food expenses” in the Nigerian budget. It is what you see when you place details of President Muhammadu Buhari’s London (medical) travels within the context of the state of the National Hospital, Abuja, or the Badagry General Hospital, Lagos. It is what you’d see if you consider the effect of the border closure on hapless Nigerians and the freedom the Nigerian elite enjoy globetrotting around the world.
And to be fair to Mr Nanono, he is not entirely wrong anyway. With N30 naira, one can indeed enjoy a “proper meal”, if not in Kano, at least in Ilorin. How? “Beske”—a delicacy prepared with soaked soya—-is the default “buffet” of the averagely poor Nigerian in Ilorin anyway, and it could go as low as between N10 and N15 or less. “Beske” (also known as ‘Awara’ or ‘Tofu’ in Kano and other parts of the North), more than anything else, has saved the highest number of poverty-stricken humans in Nigeria, and it could go for less than N30. Lagos, Aba, Ibadan, Otuoke and others too have their own equivalent of N30-worth “Beske”. In retrospect, it means Mr Nanono’s research may be premised on the worth of “Beske/Awara” which is less that N30. Perhaps, out of sympathy, he may only have inflated the figure in expectation that the extra fee could be used to purchase some Tuwo Masala.
With Beske/Awara (N10), and Tuwo Masala (N20), there is no “proper meal” elsewhere. This is in the spirit of living within one’s means and promoting made-in-Nigeria things, as President Buhari passionately preachs in press statement s announcing his incessant London trips. UNICEF and others may argue over trivial issues like balanced diet and proper nutritional supplements.
The Nigerian “change” begins and ends with the poorest of the poor. For god and Country.
Oladeinde tweets via Ola_deinde