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Hamza: The Duty To Protect And Respect Rights Of Citizens Fall On The State

How do you feel about the socio-economic state of Nigeria?

The sheer resources of Nigeria always amaze me as a country. I am also challenged by the sheer number of people who live below the poverty line, and it makes me believe in something someone said: that though there is no doubt that the richest African is in Nigeria, there is also the likelihood that the poorest African is also in Nigeria, a reflection of inequality in the country.

Nigeria is currently being rated as one of the povertystricken countries in the world. What do you think led the country to this unenviable retrogression?

Inequality and poverty in Nigeria stem from a combination of historical, social, economic, and political factors. Here are some fundamental causes: One of them is corruption: Rampant corruption at various levels of government and society diverts resources away from public services and infrastructure, exacerbating poverty and inequality. Another challenge is weak governance: Ineffective governance systems, weak rule of law, and inadequate regulatory frameworks contribute to inequality by allowing for the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a few.

I will also identify resource mismanagement as a causative factor: Despite being rich in natural resources, mismanagement and unequal distribution of revenues from oil and other resources perpetuate poverty and widen the wealth gap. There are also ethnic and regional disparities: Nigeria’s diverse ethnic and regional makeup has led to disparities in access to resources, opportunities, and development; exacerbating inequality. Another challenge is limited access to education:

Inadequate access to quality education, especially in rural areas and mainly in the North East and North West geopolitical zones, perpetuates a cycle of poverty by limiting opportunities for upward mobility. Unemployment and under-employment are also factors contributing to Nigeria’s poverty state: It is unarguable that high levels of unemployment and underemployment, particularly among youth, contribute to poverty and inequality by limiting income-earning opportunities.

There is also gender inequality: Persistent gender disparities in access to education, employment, and property rights further perpetuate poverty and inequality, particularly affecting women and girls. We must not forget that there are infrastructure deficits in the country. So inadequate infrastructure, including roads, electricity, and healthcare facilities, hinders economic development and perpetuates poverty, especially in rural areas. Conflict and insecurity are other challenges:

It is certain that persistent conflicts, such as ethnoreligious clashes and insurgency in regions like the Niger Delta and the North East, disrupt economic activities, displace communities, and exacerbate poverty and inequality. It is also essential to state that external factors such as global economic downturns, fluctuations in oil prices, international trade policies, the Ukrainian war and the Gaza onslaught by Israel also have implications, especially in the West, and their focus is related to development aid.

Food insecurity is still a significant challenge in the country. What are the causes?

Food insecurity in Nigeria is a result of several factors. Some of them include poor agricultural productivity: Nigeria’s agricultural sector faces challenges such as low crop yields, limited access to modern farming techniques, inadequate infrastructure (e.g., irrigation storage facilities), and reliance on rain-fed agriculture, which can lead to fluctuations in food production. Another factor is climate change: Erratic weather patterns, including droughts, floods, and desertification, exacerbated by climate change, can affect agricultural productivity and food availability, particularly in regions with high levels of vulnerability.

There is also land degradation: Soil erosion, deforestation, overgrazing, and other forms of land degradation reduce the fertility and productivity of agricultural land, limiting the ability to produce sufficient food. Nigerians also have the challenge of inadequate access to inputs: Smallholder farmers often need more access to quality seeds, fertilisers, pesticides, and other agricultural inputs, hindering their ability to increase productivity and meet food demand. The country also suffered from great post-harvest losses:

Inadequate storage, transportation, and processing facilities contribute to significant post-harvest losses of food crops, reducing the amount of food available for consumption and income for farmers. There is also rural poverty: Poverty among rural populations, where most agricultural activities occur, limits access to food, healthcare, education, and other resources necessary for food security. Other limitations are conflicts and insecurity: Some parts of the country have witnessed conflicts and insecurity.

It is a fact that there are internal conflicts, communal clashes, and insurgencies in certain regions, especially the North East, disrupt agricultural activities, displacement of populations, and food distribution networks, exacerbating food insecurity. Another factor causing food insecurity in the country is rapid population growth: Nigeria’s rapidly growing population puts pressure on food production and distribution systems, leading to increased demand for food and strain on available resources.

We should also recognize the impact of market dynamics and price volatility: Fluctuations in global food prices, currency devaluation, inflation, and market speculation can lead to price volatility, affecting food affordability and access for vulnerable populations. Other factors we have to reckon with are policy and governance issues: Inconsistent agricultural policies, inadequate investment in the agricultural sector, weak governance, corruption, and lack of coordination among government agencies can impede efforts to achieve food security goals.

Does it mean that past interventions by local and international bodies, including Oxfam, failed?

As we all know, the duty to fulfil, protect, and respect the rights of citizens falls on the state. Having said so, I recognise that when organisations like non-governmental organisations (NGOs) come into a country, it sometimes expresses the state’s inability to carry on their mandate. NGOs may also indirectly assume roles as duty bearers, especially when resources have been given to them to support and deal with challenges within society.

NGOs have played significant roles in Nigeria, dealing with humanitarian challenges, inequality challenges, and poverty issues, and they have also influenced many policies for pro-poor development in the country. One can just imagine a Nigeria without NGOs; the NGOs run several relief camps in the country, and there are a good number of initiatives at the federal level that are contributing significantly to the issue of inequality, dealing with gender-based violence, the adverse economic and social and climatic consequences of oil exploration and value for money audit for some government interventions, the absence of which would have made the country worse off.

So, yes, NGOs have a lot, but the nature of the problem requires a lot more effort, especially when dealing with development challenges which are like “moving targets”; as the population grows, the targets change.

How did Oxfam impact Nigeria during your tenure?

Oxfam has made indelible and great impacts in Nigeria. Generally, the organisation works with others to overcome poverty and suffering. Oxfam GB is a member of Oxfam International and a company limited by guarantee registered in England No. 612172. Its registered office is Oxfam House, John Smith Drive, Cowley, Oxford, OX4 2JY. It is a registered charity in England and Wales (no 202918) and Scotland (SC 039042) In Nigeria, as a country programme, we made tremendous progress in Nigeria during my one-year stay. On humanitarian strategy design: I led the design of the humanitarian strategy for Oxfam.

We have seen that, based on the challenges of Nigeria, Oxfam needed to design a humanitarian strategy to respond to numerous humanitarian challenges. This strategy now provides Oxfam in Nigeria with a document to respond to humanitarian challenges, especially under social protection and genderbased violence within an influencing imperative. Second, designing a strategy for ECOWAS engagement within Oxfam: The Nigeria country programme was expected to use its proximity to ECOWAS to lead in the design of a strategy to influence ECOWAS.

In the last year, we secured €50,000 from Oxfam Intermon to support the process of designing this strategy, which now provides guidance for Oxfam in countries in West Africa and their partners to engage and influence ECOWAS on issues related to governance, rule of law and fight against corruption, agriculture and food security, trade, taxation and extractive sector, peace, security and conflict transformation, gender, poverty and inequality We also had successful outcome of Africa Innovation Challenge:

As a follow-up to an initiative Oxfam implemented in some parts of the Nasarawa State, focusing on urban food, Oxfam received additional resources of $50,000 per annum to replicate the project in the Nasarawa state geared towards improving urban food production. We also secured over €450,000 from the German Government through a partnership with GiZ to implement a gender project in Adamawa State.

The project is aimed at promoting the rights of women and improving gender equality through conflict-sensitive approaches in Michika and Guyuk Local Government Areas. We also achieved the completion of a European Union 10 million euro funded project on food security and resilience project in Taraba state: Oxfam had been implementing a five-year EU-funded project in six LGAs in Taraba District, and during the year, we had a formal close out of the project, the project has cumulatively achieved the following:

The establishment of 1,718 Groups across 42,746 households was reached to date, with 61% female. (16,623 males; 26,123 females). We organized 6,000 farmers groupled Farmer Field Schools (FFS) sessions that trained 2000 Lead farmers in Farmer Field Business Schools. Oxfam also constructed 700-grain banks through cash-for-work, with 700 tons of assorted grains distributed to facilitate access to food items for 7,000 vulnerable small-scale farming households during the lean season (184.5 per household).

The project supported 3,900 youth farmers (female and male) with agro-enterprise development materials and expertise to replicate vegetable farming techniques through smallscale greenhouse technologies using local resources and improved seed processing, packaging, and storage facilities. The project also provided 4,500 vulnerable households with livestock and upkeep support to manage small-scale livestock production (small ruminants and chicken).

We also supported 4,000 farmers with 1,000 water pumps, improved seeds and fertilizers to establish dry season irrigation farming systems and facilitated replication of same across 26 communities: Oxfam supplied over 100,000 bags of 50kg of fertilizer to benefit 40,000 vulnerable households in the project areas in Taraba state. We also supported 9,000 women-headed households with vegetable seeds and fertilizer to start backyard gardens. In addition, Oxfam supplied over 9,000 women-headed households with assorted vegetable seeds and watering cans, and they have established home gardens.

We supported 300 fish production entrepreneurs with access to fingerlings, feed technology, processing, and markets. The project supported private sector-led nurseries with seeds and monetary incentives to raise and manage 789,915 economic trees (mango, citrus, guava, palm and moringa to 30,197 households. The project also trained 80 extension agents (EA) from local government areas on climate-smart agriculture and other techniques for increasing agro-productivity.

The combined effect of this project was that it improved agricultural productivity in these areas, improved food security, provided economic enhancement opportunities for the beneficiary, and also improved social norms, especially related to dealing with the adverse effects of a patriarchal society by changing gender norms that were inimical to women and other marginalized members of the society.

Furthermore, Oxfam has been addressing poverty and inequality in Nigeria through various initiatives. Our inequality campaign on wealth tax, advocates for wealth redistribution in society. We have collaborated with the government, particularly the Ministry of Agriculture, to conduct research identifying the needs of smallholders.

Additionally, Oxfam has been implementing livelihood improvement models such as village savings and loan (VSLA) and grain banks schemes to enhance personal and household financial sufficiency and food security in rural communities and we continue to do so in some parts of the country. We urge the government to leverage our existing platform to scale up these initiatives.”

When did you become the Country Director of Oxfam in Nigeria and when did you leave and why?

I was made an acting Country Director of Oxfam in Nigeria from June 2023 to May 2024 when there was a vacancy; more or less, I stepped in to allow some flexibility for Oxfam to find a permanent replacement for the Country Director position in Nigeria. Where is your current assignment, and what position are you holding? I returned to Ghana as the Country Director for Oxfam in Ghana.

What should be done to address food insecurity in Nigeria?

To the extent that, for example, the hunger situation, especially in the North East, has reached crisis proportions, is a product of interconnected factors bordering on poverty (including food poverty – hunger), as exacerbated by climate change and insurgency. This means that Nigeria needs an integrated strategy for dealing with the situation, not disparate applications of isolated strategies, as is currently the case.

This is because the central issue in poverty reduction is the perennial policy failure of the different organs of the food system. Thus, the focus of strategy for dealing with the food insecurity situation should squarely be on the policy process rather than the technology process, including the technology policy itself. A series of policies and projects have failed at the implementation stage to achieve the preset goals and objectives. Indeed, the successive failure of the government to remove the bottlenecks to policy implementation is the bane of Nigeria’s food system.

Such bottlenecks include: inadequate voice and accountability, political instability and the occurrence of violence, government ineffectiveness, poor regulatory quality, lack of rule of law, and uncontrolled corruption. All these issues are of serious concern to most development actors. For example, the amount appropriated to the agricultural sector in the 2024 budget is N362.9 billion, representing 1.2% of the national budget. This is further broken down into a capital budget of 252.7 billion, N102.1 for personnel, and N8.1 billion for overhead costs.

This amount must be revised to demonstrate the federal government’s commitment to addressing food insecurity in the country. Another way we can look at the food insecurity challenge is to anchor it on food as a human right, not a mere human need longer. Incidentally, the much-awaited Right to Food Bill has now been passed into law (Act No. 34 2023), which grants formal recognition to food as a human right in the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in S. 16A.

The Act presently awaits official acknowledgement by government at national and state levels to be followed by its faithful implementation for the benefit of people living in protracted suffering from hunger and malnutrition in Nigeria. To break this vicious circle of insecurity and food insecurity, communities and local organisations must be central to finding durable solutions and ensuring their capacities are built to identify early warnings and implement emergency action plans to prevent the issue from becoming a total crisis.

With adequate support, small-scale farmers throughout Nigeria could significantly reduce rampant malnutrition and propel the country toward food security. However, as the Nigerian proverb goes, ‘fine words do not produce food.’ Despite the government’s vision of economic transformation and commercialization with agriculture at the center, small-scale farmers remain overlooked in investment priorities.

Funding levels for agriculture and climate change adaptation fall short of promises, with resources skewed toward larger scale projects and research. The support required by small-scale farmers is straightforward, ranging from access to fertilizers and market access to climate change adaptation strategies. “Public-private programs that have demonstrated success in enhancing food production and creating a market for products should be sustained and enhanced to support smallholder farmers effectively.

These programs should conduct comprehensive needs assessments to provide the necessary inputs, credit programs, and ensure timely delivery, aligning with the requirements of farmers. Achieving a world free of hunger and poverty by 2030 requires a substantial increase in capital flows in agriculture and food systems. To end poverty and hunger, the world needs an additional $265 billion in annual investments, with $140 billion focusing on agriculture.”

There should be provision and access to fertilizers and improved agricultural and extension services. Cluster small and medium enterprises should be able to organise, get capacity and access services. Assist federal and state governments with macro and micro economic advisory to improve the local economy.

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