- The situation in Africa’s most populous country is unravelling, and its president of five years appears to be making things worse
By Ayo Adedoyin
Nigeria. Its government has just announced that it is unable to afford food imports, precisely when it needs them most.
The Coronavirus pandemic has surged to almost 10,000 confirmed cases, and killed roughly 250 people, including the president’s Chief of Staff. Yet this is the least of my dual-country’s problems.
It is experiencing widespread food shortages, the rebirth of Islamic State (Isil) in West Africa after having being dislodged from Syria and Iraq, as well as political corruption, a media in thrall to President Muhammadu Buhari and – on top of all this – deadly diseases besides coronavirus, such as malaria.
Given the wasteland developing in Nigeria, home to 200 million people, one might have sympathy for its leader. But Buhari, an ex-military general, is seen in many quarters as somewhat complicit in the multiple layers of insecurity that bedevils the country.
He came to power in 2015 on a wave of hope from voters who looked up to him as the man to eradicate the twin evils of corruption and insecurity. Today, however, many would say that he has made both evils worse.
Indeed his own native clansmen of mainly migratory Fulani herders have been largely accused of working hand-in-hand with Islamic State West Africa (Iswap), currently rampaging through sub-Saharan Africa and orchestrating the brutal slaughter of innocent citizens, many of whom are Christian farmers.
These farmers are attacked not only for their land resources, but for practising a heretical faith in the eyes of Islamist extremists. Twelve of Nigeria’s nineteen northern states are under Sharia (Islamic law), and Christians in these states face discrimination.
The International Committee on Nigeria (Icon) recently reported that Boko Haram has killed 43,242 Nigerians since 2010. In addition, Fulani jihadists slaughtered 17,284 Nigerians since 2010, bringing the combined total to 60,526.
The true number is feared to be far higher owing to mass burnings, chaotic attack aftermaths, disappearances and population displacement.
It is shocking that all this is happening in a key Commonwealth member state and Africa’s largest economy, whose leader boasts a close relationship with Prince Charles.
Long before the murder of farmers is taken into account, this is already a massacre of Syrian proportions. But the news that Nigeria cannot afford to import food from abroad sheds more light on the suffering that the agricultural implosion will have on the whole country.
The Islamist-inspired massacres of Christian farmers, who have contributed immensely to Nigeria’s agriculture and domestic food production, mean that the threat of starvation hangs over the millions who have managed to escape the killing fields. Tragically, many of the most vulnerable in need of food are fleeing the violence and congregating in internal displacement camps prone to widespread coronavirus transmission.
It makes us question what Nigeria and President Buhari’s regime is doing with around £300 million a year of British taxpayer money in the form of foreign aid, especially if Nigeria can no longer afford food imports.
While the latest food crisis is virus-related and has been triggered by the crash in the oil price, one cannot completely ignore the pre-existing plight of vulnerable farmers, and the government’s failure to protect them from a nascent Islamic State hungry for power and resources.
The humanitarian group I lead, PSJ UK, has long warned that the carnage inflicted on Christians and other vulnerable groups in the emerging northern Nigerian caliphate will have repercussions for broader society, locally and internationally.
As I read of potential starvation in a country that was once called the ‘breadbasket’ of West Africa, I hope more than ever to be proven wrong.
Ayo Adedoyin is Chief Executive of PSJ UK, a humanitarian organisation campaigning against the persecution of Christians in Nigeria