Dele Sobowale explores the economic realities of Nigeria and how it is impacting ordinary families and their ability to feed, a basic human need.
Nigeria is descending to a new low in barbarism, which if left unchecked will define the new era of politics. Parents, presumed to be sane, but obviously callous and distressed, now sell their kids to procure food for the rest of the family. Whether the evil is perpetrated with a heavy heart is difficult to say until we conduct a study into the motivations of the few known examples to date. And, the sooner the better, because this trend might gain momentum and become irreversible for a long time to come.
“Love and business and family and religion and art and patriotism are nothing but shadows of words when a man is starving.” O. Henry, 1862-1910, VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS, VBQ, P 233.
It is difficult to imagine how parents would determine which of their kids to be sold. That they don’t particularly care what fate befalls that child is obvious. That they don’t consider that the sale of one child for a pittance will not solve their problems permanently is also clear. They certainly don’t ask themselves what will happen when the food purchased with their own kids’ blood money is exhausted. Will they sell another one? Just as obvious to anybody who can think deeply is the fact that those who can willingly sell their own kids would think nothing about trading other people’s children for cash. Perhaps some are already into that business. We will never know until somebody conducts a study to find out if cases of missing children had risen in the communities where parents have been caught selling their own.
However, before proceeding with this column, a diversion is necessary.
Femi Adesina, presidential adviser for media, was once reported to have stated that he does not believe that Nigerians are suffering now. I sincerely hope he was misquoted. But, in the event he was not, that statement will go down in my own memory as one of the most callous and insensitive ever by an official of the federal government. It would also have gone a long way to prove my pet theory that there is a medical and mental phenomenon called ASO ROCK DISEASE. This is defined as an affliction experienced by some individuals who are appointed to great office in Aso Rock and who shortly after reaching there start to make pronouncements that are totally out of character with what they once pretended was their belief.
Late Professor Herbert Marcuse, in 1967, in Waltham, Massachusetts, USA, had delivered a lecture in which he declared that “Existence determines consciousness; where you stand determines what you see”.
People entering the world of power at Abuja from relative powerlessness can be forgiven if they suddenly talk and behave as part of the power elite. Late Chief Bola Ige became minister under Obasanjo and quickly declared that there was no need for a Sovereign National Conference – something he had championed all his life. That led to a two-part column from me titled Et Tu Chief Ige. I asked Uncle Ige if he had not contracted the Aso Rock disease. I certainly hope that Adesina had not contracted that disease which had consumed the reputations of ALL the journalists and columnists who served Obasanjo, Yar’Adua and Jonathan before him. None returned from Abuja with their reputations intact – although financially wealthy. Invariably, they have forgotten that “The true measure of your wealth is how much you will be worth when you have lost all your money”. Who now listens to Femi’s last three predecessors in the Rock? They have become the living-dead.
It is a fact that it is almost impossible for someone who eats “free lunch”, at the Aso Rock cafeteria, to understand the problems of millions of his fellow Nigerians who have to pay for their own lunch and increasingly cannot find it. Tucked in the comfort Nigerian money can buy, it requires a lot of insight and deep wisdom to sympathise and empathise with those who are not sure of any meal for weeks to come.
Empathy is here defined as “standing in somebody else’s shoes”; feeling the pinches.
In fact, if Adesina wants to know if Nigerians are suffering, he should ask his former colleagues in the print media who have not received salaries for over four months. They will be the first to ask him to go and wash his mouth with soap. Enough said for now on that.
Those not privileged to eat free food at the Rock know that these are the toughest times millions have known in a long, long, long, time. Unfortunately, the worst is yet to come. If people are now selling kids, will they start eating them when things get worse as they will inevitably do in 2016 and 2017? Yet, the signs of imminent famine and mass starvation are there for all to see.
Two inescapable factors will serve to illustrate the point – imported and manufactured food items on the one hand and locally produced food items on the other. Floating exchange rate which had effectively devalued the naira had correspondingly set in motion a series of escalating price increases on imported food items and manufactured food items which rely on imports of raw materials. Price of bread will certainly soon go up and one hopes that somebody inside the Rock will not announce “Let them eat cake”, Queen Maries-Antoinette, 1755-1793). That stupid joke by an insensitive woman precipitated a revolution.
Even local food production had been devastated by drought. We are in July and the rainfall this year had been the least in over fifty years. Crops are failing everywhere. New yam, which serve as proxy for harvest in general, is not yet out and a quick visit to some farms indicate that a disaster is underway with respect to yam harvest.
Only the rich and wealthy will escape the consequences of poor harvests. The most urgent question now confronting us is: what will happen to the kids as the calamity unfolds? Will they be served for lunch? Buhari has a whale of a problem on his hands – even if he doesn’t know it yet.
Advice to Buhari on Saraki and Others
“There are some individuals who are better kept on the inside pissing out, than on the outside pissing in.” – Sam Rayburn, 1882-1961
Sam Rayburn was probably the most powerful speaker of the US house of representatives. He was also regarded as a mentor to Lyndon Johnson, 1908-1973, who was senator, vice president, and president of America. The story had been told about when Rayburn faced with some rebels in the house within his own political party and someone asked him why he did not use his enormous power to deal with them.
Wise Sam made the statement above which has relevance for Nigerian politics today. As everybody knows now, there is a total breakdown in relationships between President Buhari and the Senate President. The heads of the Executive and legislative branches are literally at war. On both sides, the combatants are in the trenches; political, as well as real, lives are at stake. On paper the balance of power is with the executive branch; but it might turn out to be a costly blunder for anybody to assume that it is overwhelming.
Unfolding events out of Buhari’s control are already reducing the power gap. The cases started including the forgery case will certainly not be concluded soon. They will wind their way to the Supreme Court after several trips to the Courts of Appeal and Buhari’s term might be over before we have heard the last words on these. Meanwhile, there are three more budgets to be presented to the Senate, appointments to be approved, ambassadors to interrogate, inevitable economic recession to address – all of which need Senate support. To make matters worse the minister of justice who approved the prosecution of Saraki and Ekweremadu is already involved in conflict of interest controversy. Saraki on the outside is dangerous….
Dele Sobowale is a columnist with Vanguard Newspapers, where this article was first published.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.