Senator Orji Kalu And Hungry Nigerians, By Emmanuel Onwubiko

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In this season of budget presentation both at the centre and the subnational legislatures, many strange subheads are already emerging on how the political elites are proposing to spend huge tax payers resources on entertainment and feeding in the next budget circle.

From the office and residence of the President and his Vice to the budgets of Federal agencies, it ridiculous how the elites in both political offices and civil service offices have cornered huge chunk of public money to feed themselves even when they are paid handsomely for jobs they do for the nation. The National Assembly members do have a ridiculous budget line they call ‘Hazard allowance’ which they pay to themselves even when they work in the most comfortable offices that any Nigerian can dream of. Doctors and Nurses who ought to be paid hazard allowances are paid just a little that is barely enough to procure panadol. The budget presentation season is indeeda time of political insanity and insensitivity.

For instance, President Muhammadu Buhari on Thursday allocated the sum of N644.3 million on food and refreshment in the State House for next year.

He also earmarked N76.6 million as residential rent in the seat of power for the 2022 fiscal year.

All these are contained in the 2022 Appropriation Bill of N16.39 trillion the President presented to the joint session of the National Assembly on Thursday.

A breakdown of the budget revealed that N24.83 billion was allocated for the President’s State House operations and N1.18 billion for the Vice President.

The State House residential rent gulped N66.6 million last year. Who do they pay these rents to if I may ask?

The State House rent was a permanent feature in the yearly budgetary allocation during the previous administrations and the Buhari’s government has continued with the arrangement despite its description as a suspicious item.

It was earlier reported that between 2015 and 2020 residential rent payment in Aso Rock gulped N400.1 million.

The State House headquarters got N135.66 million for refreshment and meals while N30.65 million and N20.26 million were earmarked for the President and Vice President’s operations at the seat of power.

For the purchase of foodstuff and catering materials, the sum of N301.13 million was aside for the President while the Vice President got N156.66 million.

Other expenses in the State House budget include N35.41 million for sewerages while N55.05million was earmarked for the rehabilitation and repairs of the residential buildings.

The sum of N5.17 billion was budgeted for rehabilitation and repairs of office buildings.

However, no consideration or budget is allocated for children born to poor homes who are hungry in all parts of Nigeria even as the children undergoing severe hunger due to conflicts are never remembered in all of these budget for foods by the elites.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has said that malnutrition is the biggest threat to child “survival and development” in the North East.

The Chief Field Officer, Maiduguri, Samuel Sesay, raised the alarm, yesterday, at a three-day Media Dialogue on Child Malnutrition Reporting in Maiduguri, Borno State.

According to him, malnutrition is the underlying cause of about 50 per cent of all deaths among under-five children globally.

Malnutrition, he added, is the biggest threat to child survival and development in insurgency-affected states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe.

“Households in the region are experiencing unprecedented levels of food crisis and hunger,” he lamented. Sesay noted that poor feeding environment, hygiene and health services contributed to under-nutrition in children.

He added that the destruction of basic infrastructure and services, climate change and the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) contributed to the growing number of children affected by under-nutrition.

“It is unacceptable that children continue to bear the greatest burden of conflict, climate change and COVID-19,” he lamented, insisting that ensuring good nutrition in children would help families and the nation to grow.

MEANWHILE, the Kaduna State Government has approved the release of N500 million for the procurement of Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF) for the treatment of acute malnutrition.

The Project Manager, Kaduna State Emergency Nutrition Action Plan (KADENAP), Mr. Umar Bambale, made this known in Kaduna, yesterday, at the Nutrition Partners’ Second Quarter Coordination and Review Meeting.

Bambale said the amount had been approved within the second quarter, adding that KADENAP was awaiting the release of the fund to finalise the procurement process.

He added that the government had also released N134 million within the quarter to KADENAP for the implementation of nutrition programmes.

Explaining that the RUTF was an energy-dense, mineral- and vitamin-enriched food, specifically designed to treat severe acute malnourished children, he disclosed that the number of new admissions of severe acute malnourished children at the Community Management of Acute Malnutrition (CMAM) sites increased from 2,796 in the first quarter to 8,157 in the second quarter.

The project manager also said the number of children treated increased from 2,730 in the first quarter to 4,631 in the second quarter due to the availability of RUTF at CMAM centres.

The Director, Development Aid Coordination, Planning and Budget Commission, Mr Salisu Baba, said the government was working with development partners to optimise utilisation of resources.

The State Coordinator, Civil Society-Scaling Up Nutrition in Nigeria (CS-SUNN), Ms Jessica Bartholomew, reiterated the group’s commitment to its advocacy for improved nutrition funding and utilisation. This State perhaps is one of the very few in Nigeria that budgets for hungry children.

But one of the political elites in the person of the Senate’s Chief whip Senator Orji Uzor Kalu seems to have come to the rescue of millions of hungry Nigerians by preparing for legislation, a bill which will put hunger, starvation and mass poverty to flight if passed and effectively implemented.

Few weeks back, this writer discussed briefly on this move by the Abia State born Senator to wage determined war against hunger.

But in the past couple of days, yours faithfully has successfully obtained a copy of this proposed law which Senator Orji Uzor Kalu called “A BILL FOR AN ACT TO ESTABLISH THE NATIONAL FOOD BANK AND TO PROVIDE FOR MATTERS CONNECTED WITH”.

He prayed his colleagues to give the green light so it be ENACTED by the National Assembly of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as follows:

This Bill may be cited as NATIONAL FOOD BANK establishment Bill 2021.

In the EXPLANATORY MEMORANDUM, he wrote thus: The bill seeks to provide for the establishment of a National Food Bank to ensure National Food Security and also encourage youth participation in agriculture by granting loans secured with educational certificates and on single digit interest.

SPECIFICALLY, IN PART I-ESTABLISHMENT OF THE NATIONAL FOOD BANK AND ITS

MANAGEMENT BOARD will look like this-: 1.-(1) There is established a body to be known as the National Food Bank (in this Act referred to as “the Bank”). 2. The Bank –

(a) shall be a body corporate with perpetual succession and a common seal;

(b) may sue or be sued in its corporate name; and

(c) may acquire, hold or dispose of any property, movable or immovable, for the purpose of carrying out any of its functions under this Act.

  1. The Bank shall have such powers and duties as are conferred on it by

this Act or by any other enactment or law on such matters on which the

National Assembly has power to make law.

  1. Functions of the Bank

It shall be the duty of the Bank;

(a) ensure national food security through a reliable supply of designated commodities for the country;

(b) meet local shortfalls in the supply of a designated commodity;

(c) meet such other food emergencies caused by drought or flood, or by such other natural disaster, for the purposes of this Act, as may be declared by the President;

(d) correct problems relating to the supply of designated commodities which result from the manipulation of prices or monopolistic trading practices;

(e) co-ordination or research into food security problems;

(f)food security education and training at the national level and relating

with appropriate Nigerian and foreign educational institutions;

(g) organisation of national and international conferences and seminars on

food security matters including visits by representatives of foreign food banks and food security bodies; and

(h) disbursement of National Food Bank loans, grants and food security assistance to deserving Nigerians.

(i) to perform such other functions as are necessary or expedient for the full discharge of all or any of the functions conferred on it by this Act.

Undet article 5. Membership of the Bank are-:  3.-( I) There is established for the Bank a board to be known as the National Food Bank Board (in this Act referred to’ as “the Board”) which shall have overall supervision of the Service as specified under this Act. (2) The Board shall consist of –

(3) The Bank shall consist of the following members to be appointed by the President on the recommendation of the Minister and subject to confirmation by the Senate, that is-

(a) Chairman,who shall be-

(i) an eminent Nigerian,with sound knowledge of agriculture and requisite experience in food security and

(ii) and appointed by the President,on recommendation of the Minister;

(b) Representatives of each of the Six geopolitical zones of Nigeria who shall-

(i) have sound knowledge of agriculture and requisite experience in food security

(ii) appointed by the President,on recommendation of the Minister.

There are a few other technical support provisions which will guarantee the functionality of this mechanism to check mass hunger in Nigeria as proposed by the Senate’s Chief whip Senator Orji Uzor Kalu.

No doubt, our Country Nigeria is Africa’s wealthiest, most populous nation, and its fastest-growing economy. Despite this, more than half of the country lives below the poverty line, and northern Nigeria suffers the world’s third highest level of chronic undernutrition among children, so says ActionAid, an international non governmental organisation.

This silent crisis is caused by lack of access to safe water and sanitation, rising food insecurity, the disruption of basic services due to conflict, and poor knowledge of healthy feeding practices for infants and young children.

ActionAid rightly stated that since 2012, Northeastern Nigeria has faced insecurity due to conflict with armed insurgent groups. Civilians have limited access to assistance, and food remains a major need in displacement settlements. Prolonged absence of food security, livelihoods, healthcare, education, clean water, and sanitation and hygiene facilities exacerbate risks. Protection concerns include arbitrary detention, forced conscription, domestic violence, forced and early marriages, trafficking, and sexual exploitation and abuse.

After more than a decade of conflict, the humanitarian crisis in Northeastern Nigeria remains one of the most serious in the world. In 2020, 7.9 million people were in need of humanitarian assistance in Nigeria, yet more than a million people remained beyond the reach of humanitarian actors because they live in areas controlled by armed groups. Food insecurity remains extremely high as a result of population displacement, climate change and the economic impact of COVID-19. Additionally, the nutrition and health situation remains worrying: only 58% of health infrastructures are functional, and one million people receive less than 15 liters of water per day.

Honestly, ending hunger shouldn’t be left to groups like ActionAid.

State actors must implement actions against Hunger through what can be called  vital monthly food assistance to the poorest of the poor (which ActionAid does very efficiently) in the 36 states of the federation using community leaders, religious leaders and civil society key stakeholders.

Government should set up independent teams to also provide technical support and supplies to families for agriculture, animal husbandry, fishing, vegetable gardens and other income-generating activities to improve food security in the rural areas.

Government needs to improved access to water and sanitation through the rehabilitation and construction of water points and latrines, hygiene promotion, capacity building and advocacy. These teams should distribute hygiene kits, shelters, and non-food items in host communities and displacement camps, and these measures will inevitably contribute to the national effort to end open defecation in Nigeria.

This brave efforts by Senator Orji Uzor Kalu should be supported and actualized.

EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO is head of the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) and was federal commissioner of the NATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION OF NIGERIA.

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