Poverty, hunger, sickness: Blighting many homes

“I have not eaten today. I came to school this morning hoping to get something to eat. Otherwise, I will go back home after school without hope of getting any food. I drank garri (cassava flakes) from our neighbour yesterday. My grandmother is at home, blind. She is managing to fend for us.” These were the words of eight-year-old Waheed during a visit to Olubi Memorial Primary School, at Elekuro area of Ibadan by the Nigerian Tribune recently. That little boy was so shattered and had no hope of tomorrow. All he wanted was food, at least to survive.

Waheed’s father is struggling to meet ends meet in Lagos. In his struggles, he impregnated a lady. While the lady could not sustain herself and the baby after delivery, since the husband did not even have a home (perhaps one of those who sleep under the bridge), the girl came to Ibadan to the mother in-law, told the woman she wanted to visit a place, with a promise to come back to pick the baby. She left since then and the boy had been living with the grandmother, who also needed help.

A teacher volunteered, “that is how this community breeds poverty. A grandmother that could not fend for herself now have to take care of this boy. The father had not even come home since then. They merely register this boy in school. What do one teach a child who has not eaten? There are many of such pupils in this school. The government has done its part, built a school in the community, but will the government also feed the children?”

Another pupil, Ramoni, also had this to say: “We are many in my grandfather’s house. We live there with him. Sometimes we come to school in the morning without food to eat. We do not, many times, have the hope of eating after the school hours as well. If we are lucky, we go home during break to get something to eat. That’s how we live.”

Rashidi Balogun
Rashidi Balogun

It was another astounding story, however, when the Nigerian Tribune asked the boy to lead him to the house of the leader of the community. While passing through a house one could consider inhabitable, even for animals, he pointedly told the writer: “That is our house.” A curious response was: “your what?” He smiled, cleared his throat and repeated what he had earlier said: “That is our house. You think it’s dilapidated? We live there.”

Eventually, after a short distance walk, a community leader was asked the sources of water for the community. The community leader, who also preferred anonymity, said “we don’t have potable water in this community. There is a tap there (pointing at a direction), but we don’t normally get water again. How then do they get water? Yet, this is a community in an urban area. The scene was gory and pathetic.

Waheed, Ramoni and many other children in the country face a perilous situation. They live each day as it comes. They are starved, deprived of good things in life. There are three basic necessities of life – food, water and shelter. These children all over the country are deprived of these necessities. They have no food to eat, no water to drink and yet, they could not proudly lay their heads to rest at night. The development exposed many of them to various sicknesses and, unfortunately, death.

Nigerian Tribune was on a visit to Elekuro in the heart of Ibadan town, the Oyo State capital, a community that hosts the prestigious Wesley College of Science and famous Methodist School. Surprisingly, most structures in the community, though old, suffer partial collapse, with both reptiles and human beings sharing apartments. It was horrific seeing people living in partially collapsed structure, yet still surviving. But at the heart of the community is the Olubi Primary School, well built and managed by the government, but some of the pupils, who are products of the community, are starving.

The same tale of woes is reverberating across the country, from the North to the South, East to the West. Scenes of children in the internally displaced camps across the country, especially in the North-East, are nightmarish. Those living in hinterlands across the country also have their worst stories to tell. Children are suffering and one wonders where that hope of the future is. The poverty cycle seems unbroken. History keeps repeating itself.

Where are those well-nourished children quoted by a former president? The former military president was said to have been asked that Nigerians are hungry and people living in poverty. He reportedly answered that all along while traversing the length and breadth of the country; he had never come across poverty-stricken people. The children he always sees, from state to state, are chubby, good looking and well-nourished. But pictures of children with Kwashiorkor and other diseases pervade the country now. Chubby looking children are no longer here, indeed, many are now malnourished.

A report by The Washington Post recently, entitled: “A famine unlike any we have ever seen,” stipulated that as “Nigeria battles the Islamist terrorists, millions are at risk of starvation. In the North-East, more than three million displaced and isolated by the militants are facing one of the world’s biggest humanitarian disasters. Every day, more children are dying, because there is not enough food. Curable illnesses are killing others. Even polio has returned.”

A top United Nations (UN) official who focused on humanitarian aid for the region, Toby Lanzer, was quoted in the report to have said “We will see, I think, a famine unlike any we have ever seen anywhere, unless immediate assistance is provided. Thousands of people are reportedly dying every day because of hunger in the zone. According to the UN, it was only distributing food to only a fraction of those that needed it. The report had it that as many as 75,000 children will die in famine-like conditions in Borno and two adjacent states over the next year, unless more assistance arrives.

In many parts of the country, some aid organisation found that people were eating locusts and grass. The rate of severe acute malnutrition – lack of food, is threatening. About half of the children found were malnourished and to make the matters worse, polio is back. It is difficult for most children to get foods to eat. The economic situation in the country did not help matters as well. Prices of foodstuffs are too high for many parents to afford. These days, children no longer enjoy luxuries; they are forced to take whatever is provided by the parents. It is disturbing that parents with low income and unstable economy even have more children to cater for.

The city of Gwoza in Borno State, according to The Washington Post, is still scarred by the years insurgents ran it. Hundreds of buildings are charred, missing roofs, crumbling from rocket-inflicted damage. More than a year after the military had reclaimed the area; many of those living there are barely surviving.

Iya Dunni

In the report, one Ramatu Musa, 22, and her extended family live in a bombed-out house near the center of the city. They fled from nearby village. They have only one meal a day and Musa struggles every day to feed her baby. “The breast is not bringing milk,” she was quoted as saying in the report. In many cases, mothers eat so little and so are unable to breastfeed. At a UNICEF clinic is Gwoza, one doctor reported seeing as many as 70 malnourished children a day. “We need more food, oxygen, a blood bank, IVs, an ultrasound,” said Ernest Okoli, a doctor, standing outside his clinic in a former courthouse where patients were being treated on the floor.

A senator representing Borno South senatorial district, Ali Ndume, recently raised the alarm over challenges of hunger, poverty and malnutrition in the North-East. He noted that the war against Boko Haram in the North-East was almost over, but lamented that the region was now faced with hunger, poverty and malnutrition. “We are facing another war and that is the fight against hunger, malnutrition and poverty, and that too, government is bracing up to it. For three years, our people, who mostly depend on subsistence farming, did not go to their farms and government alone cannot feed the whole North-East or Borno State alone, and that is our greatest challenge,” he was quoted to have said.

Speaking with the Nigerian Tribune, a woman in Elekuro community, who prefers to be called Iya Dunni, when asked about the conditions of some of these children, said in Yoruba language that these days, what a parent ask the child is: “omo mi, se o ti jeun? and not “omo mi, se o yo?”  which literally mean: “my child, ‘have you eaten today?’ and not ‘are you satisfied?” According to her, most parents are not even sure of when next they will be able to provide for their homes. She said the most pathetic thing is that some of them, even as grandparents, had to take care of some of their grandchildren, because the parents had either separated or still struggling with life.

A community leader, Mr Rashidi Balogun, lamented what he termed the pathetic situation in the country, especially the high cost of living. According to him, a child who is not well fed cannot assimilate whatever the teacher is saying. “Parents cannot afford food for the children because they are poor as well. How would a child who is not well fed assimilate anything being taught? It is a pathetic situation. The development always results into poor academic record. There is no way a malnourished child will excel in his academics. We do not have potable water here too. These children have to look for water before they leave for school.” While lamenting that most parents could not provide for their kids, he, however, lauded the planned feeding of pupils by the Federal Government. “If the government helps us to feed these pupils, at least once a day, it will be a relief for the parents.” The development, according to him, will also boost enrolment in school.

Chairman of Parents Teachers Association (PTA) for the school, Alhaji Hamzat Ramoni, himself a retiree, said though the government is trying all it could, the economic situation is not helping matters for the parents. “Some of these children do not eat to school, including my grandchildren in that school. However, some of them do come home at break to eat. I had been PTA chairman for 12 years. Things were not as bad as this before. Parents are struggling.”

Hamzat Ramoni
Hamzat Ramoni

When the Nigerian Tribune got to his house, he was busy attending to some of the pupils who sat for common entrance but had not come to collect their result, for onward admission into secondary school. “Some of these students should have resumed in their various secondary schools (showing the Nigerian Tribune some results), but they have not come to collect their testimonials and results. Six weeks after schools had resumed, some of them are still at home. Why? They have not even paid for the common entrance. The head teacher helped them to pay so that they will sit for the examinations. Up till now, they have not even paid. You can see this is a serious mess,” he lamented.

Alhaji Ramoni called on the government to help the parents more in order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). According to him, some parents are civil servants, some are retirees. He wondered how such parents would be able to provide for the children in this period of recession. “I welcome the idea of school feeding being planned by the government, but it should cut across all classes in the basic school. If the children are well fed, they will excel in their academics,” he said.

Man, indeed, has basic needs that must be met for a good life. In the pursuit of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which had metamorphosed to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the United Nations hopes to eradicate poverty soonest, a resolution to which Nigeria is also a party. On July 19, 2014, the UN General Assembly’s Open Working Group (OWG) on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) forwarded a proposal for the SDGs to the Assembly. The proposal contained 17 goals with 169 targets covering a broad range of sustainable development issues. These included ending poverty and hunger, improving health and education, making cities more sustainable, combating climate change, and protecting oceans and forests.On December 5, 2014, the UN General Assembly accepted the Secretary-General’s Synthesis Report which stated that the agenda for the post-2015 SDG process would be based on the OWG proposals.But a question to ask is: How soon for these communities and many others across the country to end hunger, poverty?