My Ten Cents

Monday, October 16, 2017

IPOB and the Roads Not Traveled

On September 15, 2017, the Southeastern governors rose from an emergency meeting in Enugu and issued an order/declaration proscribing the group, Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), headed by one Mr. Nnamdi Kanu from Isiama-Afara in Abia state. Coincidentally, the Nigerian military, erroneously, declared (later withdrew) the same organization a terrorist group. Within days of these declarations, the federal government moved to make both declarations official and legally binding via a court order. While legal luminaries and social media experts are busy falling over themselves as to the legality of the states and federal actions, the federal government had moved on to inform the international community of its present decision regarding IPOB.

The Wrong Choices by IPOB
The question one should ask is: how did IPOB end up finding itself in this situation? Let’s review some of their activities and effects of such activities that ensured this outcome:
1.      It reached a point in Igboland that one could hardly express a dissention, or contrary opinion to the organization’s methods, without being called names ranging from saboteur, anti-Igbo, son of hausa-fulani prostitute, children of monkeys and slaves of the “caliphate”, to spies of the “oppressor”, Okoroawusa, zoo monkeys, etc. Many on social media went as far as issuing threats of instant death and family extermination to any Igbo who dares to express his or her feeling and concerns. Those who have higher levels of education may not have issued these threats, but they dismissed these cautionary opinions of others as “comical” fit for the theatrics of the Mr. Ibus and Nkem Owos of Nollywood fame. Aside from the threats and curses coming from mere members of IPOB directed at fellow Igbos, the fiery threats, including massive death and destruction to anyone and everyone who dares to question his representative authority of all of Ndi Igbo, from leader, Nnamdi Kanu, directed at the leadership of federal and state governments, without constitutional authority to protect and preserve life and properties of every Nigerian citizen, only added to the concern and fear among the majority of Igbos that a crisis of devastating proportion, one way or the other, is in the offing. Therefore, they rightly expressed those fears to the authorities vested with the powers of protection of lives and properties in Nigeria.

2.      The leadership of IPOB, erroneously, arrogated to themselves powers and authorities over the Igbo people that were never legally conferred on them either through the ballot box or through state or federal executive fiat. Thought many Igbos, including my very self, would want, and do dream of, an independent Igbo nation, the approach to that ultimate goal differs; especially, when compared to the approach of confrontation adopted by Nnamdi Kanu’s IPOB. I refer here to Nnamdi Kanu’s IPOB, because there is an organization of the same name, headed at one time by Dr. Dozie Ikedife, which has been pursuing the same indigenous national agenda through the civil courts. Now, if the two groups are one and the same, I have no idea until they tell us so. For this piece, I will treat them as separate; so, every reference going forward if to Nnamdi Kanu’s IPOB. Because the IPOB did not bother to seek the legitimate mandate of the majority of Ndi Igbo, or allow dissenting or alternative opinions, they failed to interpret the real mood of the Igbo people, relying only on the crowd of curious spectators who thronged every venue where Nnamdi Kanu appeared as their gauge of their level of acceptance and support as a representative of the mood of, and acceptance by, all Igbos.

3.      In their misinterpretation of the mood of the people, and probably relying on a few outside supportive comments, and financial donations, from people outside the region and/or safely tucked away in Diaspora, the IPOB decided to form a Biafra Security Service, issue passports, and encourage the use of the old Biafra currency notes for transaction, all in violation of the Nigerian sovereignty which all the elected state governors and legislative representatives from the region pledged to uphold and defend. Effectively, they created a state within a state, and headquartered in Isiama Afara without even the consent of the people of the community, local government, or the state; especially, given that the father of the leader, Nnamdi Kanu, is a traditional ruler of Isiama, and receives emoluments from the state government when he attends council of chiefs meetings as a representative of his people. Such level of arrogance cannot be tolerated anywhere in the UK where Nnamdi Kanu is a citizen; so, why would anyone expect the Abia state government to tolerate it?

4.      The long silence of Igbo elders, leaders, and statesmen over the activities of the IPOB sent a message to the federal government and other tribes and regions of covert complicity, and this did not bid well with the federal security agencies. While some have argued that the incarceration of Nnamdi Kanu by the federal government accorded him undeserved publicity and followership, there is really no way of knowing if his group’s approach would have been different if he was not incarcerated. In any case, the resultant effect of their approach to achieving an indigenous Igbo nation, and the implied tacit approval of Igbo leaders by their long silence, put the entire region under the threat of federal state of emergency. The governors, afraid of losing their legal mandate from the people, had to act very quickly.

5.      Threats of shutting down commercial and political activities in Igboland did not help the overall cause much. The May 30th compliance with “shutdown of commercial activities in Biafraland” was not done out of support for IPOB or reverence for its leader by the people; rather, it was done out of fear for lives and property. Also, “commercial activities in Biafraland” was shut down for more than one day; because, over the months prior and post May 30th, IPOB activities and rhetoric scared away business investment in Igboland, especially Abia state. Both foreign and local investors refrained from starting new businesses or expanding existing ones in the region, because of the air of uncertainty pervading the region. Quite a few of them not only reduced their level of activities, but contemplated complete exit from Abia, Enugu and Anambra states entirely. Even Diaspora easterners who regularly travel down to the region for summer holidays with family and friends, and contribute to the local economy through their personal expenditures, mostly stayed away until they are assured of their safety and well-being.

Unfortunately, IPOB leadership never calculated, or were entirely oblivious, of the economic damage their actions and rhetoric were doing to the region and people they professed love for, nor did they bother to create economic activities that will replace the ones they were, inadvertently, chasing out. Because IPOB misinterpreted the result of the May 30th sit-at-home order, it went ahead to threaten the elections in Anambra state, and future others in Igboland. It effectively shot itself on the foot with all these threats and declarations. People became frustrated with the inaction of the elected government, and began to express such frustrations openly. Those expressed frustrations, and the quit notice issued to Igbos by the Arewa youths, finally spurred the Igbo leadership into action to contain the mess.

So, when one factors all the above in, a reasonable mind of a responsible person could have seen the proscription, and subsequent designation of the organization as a terrorist group (though I still have a problem with this one), coming. The alternative would have been a declaration of a state of emergency in the southeast and appointment of military administrators. Many have argued that IPOB members never carried weapons, harmed or killed anyone. To be designated a terrorist, you do not have to carry weapons or hurt and kill anyone, you just have to express the intent, verbal or written to do so; especially, since after 9/11. The leadership of Nnamdi Kanu’s IPOB, and their supporters, did a lot of these; worst of all, they did them online where the general public could read them. Many people charged with domestic and international terrorism by the US and European governments never killed anyone; however, they, in one way or the other, expressed the intent to harm or kill. So, where one chooses, one could sue a supporter of IPOB who made threats to do harm to anyone with a dissenting opinion. The reason why many people did not do so, is not so much that they are not aware of the law, but they chose to trivialize and dismiss these personal threats. Unfortunately, the state and federal governments could not have been expected to follow suit.

Alternatives Not Explored
As a victim of the 1967-1970 civil war, which was justified from every angled, I will be at great constraint to support any activity that may result in another war in Igboland; so, while in full support of autonomy for Ndi Igbo – and every other ethnic nationalities in Nigeria – I cannot, either willingly, or under threat of death, support the methods adopted by Nnamdi Kanu’s IPOB. While I consider him a courageous and charismatic leader who knows what his people wants, and how to deliver (at least, verbally, as most charismatic leaders do), I do not support his methods, whether originating from, or hoisted on him by his lieutenants. There are better ways to kill a monkey, or, in this case, secure autonomy for Ndi Igbo; and, though many might disagree completely with me, add, or deduct from my suggestions, they are still the best way to avoid a war. Here are some of the methods I had expressed in the past (and still do) as the best way, and the goal is to win the hearts and minds of the people first:
1.      IPOB should have initiated an awareness campaign in Igboland of its intents and purposes. Peaceful sensitization of the people of their goals and plans for Igboland through activities like:
a.      Organizing sanitation exercises in markets, primary schools, streets and public parks, along with music, on chosen Saturdays, while dressed in IPOB regalia.
b.      Lectures on Biafra, past, present, and future, where core IPOB strategic vision for Ndi Igbo is espoused, and attendees encouraged to spread this vision in their immediate environments. Promoting historic Igbo achievements and recognizing past great Igbo leaders in these lecture circuits would have brought in tremendous goodwill to IPOB
c.       Visitations and donations to less privileged homes and shelters like Uzuakoli leprosy center, ex-Biafran soldiers center at Oji River, and Biafra War Museum.

2.      In addition to the above, IPOB should have adopted the OPC model of wealth creation via peace maintenance.
a.      Instead of a BSS, it should have created and registered a security company available for hire by corporations, private people, schools, and even government agencies. Ganiyu Adam’s OPC was initially a radical offshoot of Frederick Fasheun’s OPC who started with trouble-making and graduated to providing security services to estates, individuals, and companies. They landed a pipeline protection contract, and today they have hotels, skills acquisition centers/schools, and micro-finance banks. They transitioned from pariah group to a seat at the Yoruba cultural table, with their leader being tipped today as the next Aare Ona kakanfo of Yorubaland. This would have worked for IPOB in the interim, while still pursuing its end goal of either regional autonomy or outright independence. It does not have to happen in Kanu’s lifetime.
b.      IPOB raised a lot of money from internal/external donations and the sale of Biafra/IPOB paraphernalia. Where did the money go to? Paying stipends to officials and organizing rallies? The bulk of that money could have been used to fill the social gaps created by government inaction. This was what the Taliban and ISIS did in parts of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria to draw people’s support. Though, at a much later period, IPOB embarked on pothole filling activities around the streets of Umuahia, it should have started much earlier. Such activities could have endeared the group to the hearts of the people, and increased revenue-generation prospects through free-will donations.

3.      Instead of threatening no elections in Anambra and all of Igboland, IPOB should have used the opportunity of a vacuum of quality leadership in Alaigbo to step into the political arena. They could have done so in two ways:
a.      Either transmute into, or form a political wing, and register a party to contest local and state elections in 2019 and beyond. Or,
b.      Select and endorse and vigorously campaign for some vetted, tried and trusted Igbo personalities to run for office under existing political parties. Either way, the group could have used the opportunities to test its popularity among the people and elect people of integrity and vision (even if it is IPOB vision) into political offices in Igboland.

Unfortunately, the path chosen and methods adopted by the IPOB leadership, has led to its proscription and tagging as a terror group. What is the way out? The current federal government is not going to reverse its decision, regardless of what any court might rule tomorrow; also, not many federal courts will like to overrule the federal government on this one. That leaves only one option: form another group and adopt a much less threatening approach to securing autonomy for Ndi Igbo, because any open and continuous IPOB activity will further endanger the lives and properties of the people, and force the federal government into taking more drastic measures.


Those who, from far and near, supported and encouraged the approach that led to the recent death of innocent Igbos, and the subsequent proscription and outlawing of IPOB as a terror organization, while dismissing voices of caution as comical and treasonable, should share the blame of this outcome. 

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Africa: Food Security, Nutrition & Health.

Though considerable progress has been made in recent years in Nigeria and other African nations, in the fight to combat malnutrition or under-nutrition, a lot more still remains to be done; this is because the percentage of health problems related to under-, or malnutrition, is still at an unacceptable level in most African countries.

In this paper, we will discuss the causes of malnutrition, especially in the most vulnerable groups of people – children 5 years and under, women of reproductive age, pregnant women, and the elderly; we will also discuss the impact of food security on the following childhood health problems like stunting, severe wasting, wasting, underweight, and Obesity among children.

We will also discuss and appreciate the importance of the following in the maintenance of good nutrition: Micro-nutrients (iron, zinc, vitamins, iodine, etc.), macro-nutrients (protein, fats, calories, etc.) Also, we will discuss the four dimensions of food security which includes Availability, Accessibility, Utilization, and Stability. We will also look at the significance of nutrition and food security on health.

Finally, we will examine the impediments to food security in African, and offer possible solutions toward overcoming them.

In 2003, 2011, and 2015, according to available World Health Organization, and World Bank Group data, the percentage of children under the age of 5 years, and who suffer from the five classes of malnutrition in Nigeria, and some other African nations were as follows:
Africa: 2011 6-Country Malnutrition Data (WHO, WB)

Severe Wasting
Wasting
Underweight
Overweight
Stunting
Burkina Faso
2.40%
10.20%
24.40%
0.00%
34.10%
Ghana
1.40%
6.20%
13.40%
2.60%
22.70%
Mauritania
4.00%
13.90%
24.40%
3.20%
29.70%
Mozambique
2.30%
6.10%
15.60%
7.90%
43.10%
Nigeria
3.10%
10.20%
24.40%
3.00%
36.00%
Uganda
1.50%
4.80%
14.10%
3.80%
33.70%

Nigeria – multi-year malnutrition data (WB, WHO)
2003
2011
2015
Severe Wasting
4.80%
3.10%
1.80%
Wasting
11.20%
10.20%
7.20%
Overweight
6.20%
3.00%
1.60%
Underweight
27.20%
24.40%
19.40%
Stunting
43.00%
36.00%
32.90%

Ethiopia: multi-year malnutrition data (FAO, WHO)
2011
2014
2016
Severe Wasting
2.90%
2.50%
2.90%
Wasting
10.10%
8.70%
9.90%
Overweight
1.80%
2.60%
2.80%
Underweight
29.20%
25.20%
23.60%
Stunting
44.20%
40.40%
38.40%

Ghana – 2011 & 2014 malnutrition data (FAO, WHO)
2011
2014
Severe Wasting
1.40%
0.70%
Wasting
6.20%
4.70%
Overweight
2.60%
2.60%
Underweight
13.40%
11.00%
Stunting
22.70%
18.80%

While a progressive trend is noticeable over the years in some areas in the three individual countries since 2011, especially in areas of severe wasting, wasting, and overweight, much effort is still required by government and healthcare agencies in the areas of underweight and stunting in Nigeria, and severe wasting, wasting, stunting, and overweight in Ethiopia. The overweight trend in Ghana appears to hold steady for the periods under review, while only a little over 2 percentage points each have been shed between 2011 and 2014 – a period of 3 years – in wasting, underweight, and stunting categories. Overall, a lot remains to be done.

Causes of Malnutrition/Under-nutrition
Severe micro  - and macro-nutrient deficiencies is the major cause of, at least, three – underweight, stunting, and wasting - of the five malnutrition problems suffered by children 5 years and under in Nigeria, and Africa in general. Deficiencies in micro-nutrients like iron, zinc, vitamin A, and iodine (among many others), which are chemical elements found in the body in small quantities for normal growth and development of humans and other living organisms; and in macro-nutrients which are required in large amounts by humans to develop and grow, like carbohydrates (55-75%), protein (10-15%), and fats (15-35%), contribute to, if not the main cause of all the listed malnutrition problems that continue to plague mostly the 5 and under population, pregnant women, those of childbearing age, and the poor and illiterate population in African countries. These nutrients come from food and/or various multivitamin supplements. Now, how does one ensure adequate supply and intake of these nutrients to produce the desired health results? This is where food security is important.

Food security
Food security, according to the 2009 World Summit On Food Security, “exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food, which meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”. Quite a mouthful, but it encompasses so many things that will be discussed in details when we look at the four dimensions of food security: availability, access, utilization, and stability.

1.     Food Availability:
“Water, water everywhere but nary enough to drink”. This is the same situation with food availability. For food to be considered available, a family has to have adequate, sufficient, and diversified supply of food to meet their daily nutritional needs. In other words, a family has to have available to its disposal enough combination of nutrition-rich foods to continuously satisfy its needs.  Unfortunately, this goal is never achieved, even in industrialized nations with perennial records of excess food production, for reasons that will be explained later

2.     Food Access:
          This is broken down into three types; economic, physical access, and social        support;

a.     Economic access - disposable income, food prices, and access to social support systems all determines the level of economic access a family has to food. Where disposable income is low, especially in large families with multiple responsibilities, though food may be accessible, budgetary allocations for food may not be adequate to access the needed quantity, quality, and diversity to meet nutritional requirements. Also, food prices do play a major role in accessibility; again, in a low income or large family environment, high food prices will force difficult choices that may result in choosing quantity over quality. This is the situation in many Third world countries, and even some poor sections of industrialized nations. A family in rural Africa may choose to eat cassava or corn meal two to three times a day, because it is heavy enough to satisfy the hunger pangs, and very much affordable. Same thing in a low-income family in the US which might elect to feed on Jumbo Jacks and fried chicken because of the filling effect in the stomach.

b.     Physical access - in this case, though the food may be available, along with the disposable income to buy, physically accessing the food is either difficult or impossible. This happens mostly due to lack of availability of infrastructure – roads, rail, ports, communication, and storage facilities - to transport the food from the farms and processing plants to the market or consumers. This results in wastage of most of the harvest, and the few that make it to market are priced so high that they become less affordable by the average consumer, because of the high cost of transportation/conveyance that has been passed on in the  retail prices

c.      Social support - social support augments shortfalls in economic and physical access. In developed nations of the US and Europe, governments have established social support programs, through their agriculture and commerce ministries, and in alliance with states, local governments, non-governmental agencies – including churches -, and agricultural firms to provide foods and other nutritional products for those who may need such services to augment their incomes.

Churches and many NGOs have set up food pantries and soup kitchens for families, homeless people, and even individuals who are temporarily between jobs, to cater for their nutritional needs. State governments, also, have programs to provide pre- and post-natal nutritional needs for pregnant women and their babies, either in the form of redeemable coupons at grocery stores or debit cards with which to buy only food and non-taxable items, at grocery stores. Only a handful – or even less – of African countries provide this support to the disadvantaged of its population. Even in the few countries where such services exist, corrupt practices by those in charge ensure that the needy are denied access to this support service.

3.     Food Utilization:
A family could have food access and availability without proper utilization, and this can result in mal- or under-nutrition. Lack of proper food utilization can be determined through the measurement of the size and proportion of the human body, to ascertain whether that person suffers from stunting (caused by prolonged inadequacy of food intake), wasting (short-term inadequacy of food intake), overweight/underweight, or severe wasting. With food under-utilization, families simply eat to fill their stomachs without consideration for nutritional balance; the day’s meal could be an all-carbohydrate/starch, or all-vegetable meal, but never a combination of both and plus fruits to have a balanced meal. In many African countries, including the ones with yearly abundant harvests like Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, and Uganda, consumption of unbalanced meal combinations still persist, due largely to minimal nutritional/dietary education.

Other factors include the quality of food, methods of preparation, and health/hygiene conditions. Most times, due to low income or limited access, most of the food products are already in advanced stages of rot and decay before reaching the consumer. At this stage, it has already lost most of its nutritional value and is of no benefit to the consumer. Also, in some cases where the food is still fresh from the farm, or markets, the proper cooking method is never applied. Either the vegetables are under-cooked, resulting in not accessing the full nutritional content, or overcooked, thus resulting in the killing of most if not all of the nutrients. Again, this could be attributed to lack of proper dietary/nutritional education. Finally, unsanitary food storage facilities at the markets, warehouses, and private homes could lead to early decomposition or spoilage, which results in severe loss of nutritional content and value to the consumer.

4.     Food Stability:
The last step in food security is stability, and this happens in two forms; stable food supply and stable food prices.

a.     Stable food Supply – uneven weather patterns can affect food supplies. Some African nations like Southern Sudan, Somalia, and countries near the Sahara desert suffer occasional droughts which affect production. Typhoons and tsunami in some Asian countries, El Nino and hurricane effects in central and North America also affect harvest outputs in these countries. Even the warmer ozone effects on the arctic regions of, Russia, Alaska, and the Scandinavian countries affect the supply of some food products from that region. When weather patterns are even and favorable, food supplies tend to be high due to increase in harvest; this will increase global and, eventually, local food supply. The reverse is the case when weather patterns are unfavorable; output drops, creating widespread food scarcity.

b.     Food Price – The effects of uneven weather patterns on food production and supply result in changes in global food prices. These changes can be indirect at international supply levels, or direct at local end-user levels. When global or regional supply is low, food prices go up and families have to choose between nutritionally balanced meal and one that just satisfies the hunger pangs. This is the choice that faces most consumers in African countries. On the other hand, when food supplies are high and steady and stable, families can make healthier purchase combination choices.

So, the battle against malnutrition/under-nutrition in Africa starts with food security; physical and economic access to a stable available supply line of food that is properly utilized. Any interruption along these chain of food security, either due to low income, inadequate infrastructure, and uneven weather patterns affecting growth and harvest and price fluctuations, will impact nutritional intake level of the most vulnerable of the African population which are children 5 and under, pregnant women, and women of childbearing age, and result in problems of wasting, severe wasting, under and overweight, and stunting problems.

What African Nations Can Do
African governments do know that the problem of malnutrition/under-nutrition is a serious one in the continent, and some have declared some sort of state of emergency on agriculture; however, their best efforts are still hampered by inadequate budgeting, planning, and implementation. Also, poor preservation/storage and processing facilities are still lacking in most of these countries; so, even where you have a bumper harvest of all the necessary food products, most of the harvest is either rotting away or never make it to the consuming public due to poor infrastructure and distribution network.
Public enlightenment programs on nutrition and dietary requirements (including televised public service programs on proper meal combination and preparation) for the 5-under population, expectant mothers, and women of childbearing age should be a constant of every country’s health and agriculture ministries and agencies. For the rural poor, social support services should be provided to assist them in meeting their daily nutritional needs, either by instituting at least one free balanced lunch programs in every kindergarten elementary school, or issuing coupons to families making below a certain income level to augment their food budget.

Finally, African countries and regional bodies should pursue inter-regional economic relationships that will ensure steady supply of nutritionally essential commodities even in the times of drought and other severe weather patterns which negatively affect the continent’s or global food production and supply.

Conclusion
When African countries and governments put in place the right programs to ensure complete and unabridged food security in the continent in which every family have uninterrupted access to adequate, balanced and affordable food supply, the nutritional problems of the continent, which include over/underweight, stunting, wasting, and severe wasting will be one less problems the continent will have to worry about. To achieve any major success in this battle, the political will and determination to act has to be recognizable among the leadership.

Felix Oti
Arlington, Texas

felix.oti@outlook.com