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Desperate measures

IN THE NEWS | Nigerians suffer an economic crisis alongside security woes

Protesters rally in Abuja against soaring living costs as an economic crisis leaves many struggling to afford food. Kola Sulaimon / AFP via Getty Images

Desperate measures
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DURING A SUNDAY SERVICE on March 17, David Oyedepo stood before his congregation in the 50,000-seat auditorium of the Living Faith Church Worldwide in Nigeria’s southwest Ogun state. The charismatic megachurch’s founder said it would formally launch food and clothing banks across 200 locations nationwide on March 27.

“If your neighbor comes asking you for help and it’s in your power to do it, don’t ask him to come back tomorrow if there’s provision for it,” he said.

Other Christian leaders and organizations have announced similar charity for Nigerians enduring the country’s worst economic crisis in recent history. Annual inflation in Africa’s largest economy and most populous nation stands at around 30 percent—the highest in almost three decades. Prices of staples like bread and rice have doubled in the past year, and Nigerians struggling to adjust to the rising cost of living have staged protests and in some cases engaged in looting. The crisis is compounded in the country’s violence-prone northern region, where kidnappings have surged in recent weeks.

Analysts blame Nigeria’s current crisis on decades of structural and economic problems. After assuming office last May, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu launched a campaign to fix the country’s economy. Tinubu’s administration reversed a ban on rice imports and unified the country’s multiple exchange rates, allowing market forces to determine the rate of the Nigerian naira against the U.S. dollar. He also ended decadeslong gasoline subsidies, saying they had become too costly for the government.

But the subsidy reversal brought a 200 percent increase in gas prices in a country without stable electricity and heavily reliant on gas-powered generators. The ripple effect was higher prices across the economy. Food costs have soared 38 percent in the past year.

Underscoring the desperation, the BBC reported residents in northern Kano state are now consuming afafata, a local name for a type of hard rice grain usually disposed of with rice hulls or turned into fish feed.

Noise outside the window caught Daniel Barry’s attention March 3 as he joined other congregants for his church’s 7 a.m. Sunday service in Dei-Dei, a suburb of Nigeria’s capital, Abuja. In the street, he saw crowds of people running. Word had spread that people had broken into a nearby warehouse stocked by the Federal Capital Territory’s Department of Agriculture.

A woman prays for kidnapped students in Kuriga, Kaduna state, Nigeria.

A woman prays for kidnapped students in Kuriga, Kaduna state, Nigeria. Sunday Alamba/AP

Barry said local church congregants—including from his own church—joined the rush to see what they could grab from the government warehouse. They carted away bags of corn, millet, rice, and fertilizers—and even parts of the building, like corrugated roofing sheets and window panels.

“Everybody was packing whatever they could carry. … People were complaining there [that] their salary is not enough, they don’t have enough food,” he recalled. “Starvation is too much.”

In Karmo, another Abuja district, looters raided a warehouse stashed with foodstuffs, including maize, rice, and beans. In other states, looters have targeted trucks carrying spaghetti and bags of rice.

In parts of the country’s north, Islamist-fueled violence has repeatedly disrupted farming cycles, making the food shortage especially severe.

Early in March, Mark Lipdo visited a camp for internally displaced people in Mangu county in the restive Plateau state. His Stefanos Foundation had planned to distribute food to about 600 families displaced that week by attacks from armed herdsmen who have targeted majority Christian farming communities.

But when the displaced families queued up to collect food items, other residents from the community also rushed over. “They also have needs in their homes,” Lipdo said. His foundation has tracked at least 400 farms destroyed in five counties in the state.

It is crucial to maintain a focus on social protection and ensure that the most vulnerable segments of society are not left behind.

Exacerbating the situation is a recent surge in abductions by Islamist rebel groups and criminal gangs seeking ransom payments. Between March 16 and 17, bandits kidnapped more than 100 people from Kajuru and Dogon Noma in Kaduna state. More than 500 people have been abducted in at least four other attacks across the north in recent weeks, including nearly 300 children from a school in Kaduna.

While the Nigerian government has faced criticism for failing to prevent the kidnappings, authorities have at least stepped up food assistance. On March 13, Nigerian authorities began distributing 42,000 metric tons of grains across the northwest. Late in February, Ukraine also sent 25,000 tons of wheat through the World Food Program to support crisis-plagued Nigerian communities in the northeast.

Meanwhile, President Tinubu has asked Nigerians to be patient with the ongoing reforms.

Glory Ehiremen, an analyst at the Lagos-based SBM Intelligence, said that while Nigeria needs to boost private sector development, create jobs, and attract investments, community safety needs to be included in the growth plans. “It is crucial to maintain a focus on social protection and ensure that the most vulnerable segments of society are not left behind,” she said.


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