Ripple Effects of Poverty: Hunger

A young boy leaning on a corrugated Zinc fence.Photo by Ben White on Unsplash Every time I think of poverty in many African communities, I can’t help but mull over how this poverty is experienced on various levels. Thankfully, there is a term that effectively explains this: multidimensional poverty.  According to the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI), “Multidimensional poverty encompasses the various deprivations experienced by poor people in their daily lives – such as poor health, lack of education, inadequate living standards, disempowerment, poor quality of work, the threat of violence, and living in areas that are environmentally hazardous, among others.” This definition effectively captures the thoughts that race through my head when I think of poverty. It is simple to just equate poverty with low income and end it there. But what are the ripple effects of this low income on the individual? On their families? On the opportunities they get? On the possibility of leaving their social classes and improving their lives? So, the concept of poverty is so much more than how much a person earns or what global benchmarked income they earn less than. For this piece, I want to focus on one direct ripple effect of poverty: hunger.  World Vision postulates that, “In the whole of Africa, 257 million people are experiencing hunger, which is 20% of the population.” In essence, 1 in every 5 people on the continent are hungry. To bring this home, this isn’t saying that 1 in 5 Africans in the continent have a desire for food, which is one of the definitions of hunger. This statistic shows that if you see five people today, there is a possibility that 1 of them has chronic hunger, meaning they may have diets that are either inadequate in quality or quantity, or that they have no food at all.  This is a problem.  Apart from the physical effects of hunger – which (by the way) are many – there are ways that hunger negates a person’s dignity. Because hunger is such a primal need, people who are hungry do not ‘have shame’, which is the Nigerian parlance for self-respect or worth. This is why it isn’t surprising that many people who are in this category of chronic hunger are prone to doing any (and every) thing for a meal.  Years ago, when I was a student at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, I went to a restaurant which students called, Zinc House. Now, ‘restaurant’ is a bit of stretch. This place was a makeshift building with corrugated zinc for walls and roof, and wooden benches where people could sit across each other for their meals. It was a really popular restaurant among students and members of staff, mostly because they served lots of food at a really cheap cost. You were not assured of hygienic meals, but you could get a plateful for whatever amount of money you had. If you wanted food for 200 Naira, you were sure to get it. If you wanted something for 120 Naira, you would have your food.  This place didn’t just have its student/staff traipsing in and the restaurant staff that served them. It also had some almajiris – a collection of young children who earned their meals by begging – hanging around ready to scavenge leftovers for themselves.  On the last day I was there, some guy who came in didn’t finish his food after a fly perched on it. He had not gotten to the thick chunks of meat he had ordered when he abandoned his meal. As soon as it was established that he was done eating, the scramble by these almajiris to get his food took the taste out of my mouth. In their squabble, they turned the food unto the dirt floor and proceeded to eat from the ground. (It is important that I mention that the floor was not just ‘dirty’: it was made of compact clay, thus… dirt floor.) Seeing children fighting themselves to eat off the floor…a floor that was dirty by virtue of it being made of literal dirt and having been stepped on by people from all kinds of places…broke me. I got up, called the smallest child in the group and gave him the rest of my meal. I then hurriedly left this place that displayed their lack of dignity and my shame at being unable to do more. Every time I think of poverty, especially as it relates to hunger, that image comes to my head. And while it isn’t the only one that does, it is the one that always gets me depressed. Every human being deserves dignity and respect. That dignity is lost when people degrade themselves for a chance at getting food. Let me emphasize that: no one should ever think that they need to fight for food; or eat meals that are leftovers; or scrape off the floor to get at their meal; or sell themselves; or any number of things that make them feel less worthy. It is one of the reasons I am fully in support of the Sustainable Development Goals 1 and 2, which aim to end extreme poverty and hunger in all forms by 2030. We have about 10 years to achieve this. And be assured, the task is daunting. There are many factors that prevent Africans from having access to the food they need to starve off hunger: communal clashes like the herder-farmer clashes in many parts of Nigeria; multi-pronged issues like drought, famine, conflict and instability in places like South Sudan and Central African Republic; and deeply entrenched corruption by many leaders of our African countries…to mention a few. Ending extreme poverty in our continent is going to require a lot of cohesion by governments and the people.  What are some low-hanging fruits that can accelerate this goal? The major one I can see now is the basic respect and protection of all people, regardless of their social status. I believe this is one of

Poor People Work Harder…for a Whole Lot Less

Men watching from a gate.Image: The Daily Maverick I live in one of the poorer communities in Nigeria’s capital city, Abuja. Like most of the communities surrounding it, Jikwoyi is a densely populated area. Because most things – accommodation, food, clothing and transportation – is much cheaper than other areas in the Federal Capital Territory, it is not unexpected that there are more people who live around these areas and places like this. One of the first things you notice about the neighborhood is that it pulses with activity and life; almost like a hive. People are always busy. Activity starts as early as 5am; earlier in fact. People who want to beat the eventual daily traffic jam leave as early as possible. And trust me…you don’t want to be in that traffic situation. So as early as 5am, you begin to see lots of cars heading out to town. Because the number of buses allocated to our part of town isn’t nearly enough to cater to the number of people in the area, many private vehicle owners pick up people as they head out to their ‘8-4’s or ‘9-5’s. It is an opportunity to make an extra N500 or N1,000; depending on the size of the car. Shop owners also begin to open up for the day’s activities. Most notable are people whose businesses are in the food sector. They may not be catering to the early birds – unless they sell things like Akara, puff puff, massa or other such fried foods – but come 9am, most of the rush to head out would have begun to slow down and people who work in the community would need to eat. And when school is in session, students pile the roads on their way to getting an education. They need to be catered to by provision store owners who sell biscuits, drinks, sweets, and other pacifiers children take these days. Or it could be to provide books, pencils and pens, or other necessities for school. Soon after, other businesses open up for the day and Jikwoyi becomes a full hub of activity. It is not hard to tell that the soul of the community is driven by work. What is surprising (to me) is that this work doesn’t seem to let up until late at night when I return home, which is usually between 8 and 9pm. In fact, if anything, it seems to pick up at night. Lights blazing, open grills, loud noises as cars jostle to pass the narrow roads, hawkers and street vendors calling out their ware and people generally conversing in louder tones because of the racket of everything else that is going on is how you would describe Jikwoyi at night. The sounds of chaos and the smells of all sorts of food mixed with putrefying drainages and gutters greet you as soon as you return to the community. Jikwoyi at night is bedlam. But it doesn’t end there. There is an active night market scene in Jikwoyi. You can buy almost anything at the Jikwoyi Market from between 6pm and 9pm when some people begin to close up shop. So if you had a craving for Ogbono soup at 7pm, you wouldn’t have to worry about satisfying your craving because, not only are there a myriad of restaurants that sell the soup, the market will be open if you are the type to want to cook yourself. I learned that many people who owned shops in the market – and the entire stretch of shops that are at the Jikwoyi junction and surrounding areas – are also those leaving the community at 5am to do their day jobs. To make this clearer, many people in this community leave for their offices in the day time and return home to their businesses to make a little extra cash before they go home at around 10pm (or later) so they can wake up again and set out for work at 5am the next day. For these people, the rat race seems a bit unending. In spite of all these, neighborhoods like Jikwoyi are home to some of the poorer people in Abuja. It is a mix of the extremely poor, people just above the red line of poverty and the aspiring middle class hoping for one move away to wealth and knowing that they could also be one move away from poverty. These types of neighborhoods are replicated everywhere in Nigeria and many parts of Africa. But it gets worse. Neighborhoods like mine are only considered ‘poorer’ neighborhoods because they are in the Federal Capital Territory and because they pale in comparison to the suburbs at the city center. In reality, there are many more neighborhoods with people living in extreme poverty than there are neighborhoods like mine. And the people in these neighborhoods have to do even more to survive. It is not hard to see that these are some of the most hardworking people in the community. They have to be up earlier and usually not by choice; they have to deal with some of the worst traffic as they leave for work; they juggle at least two jobs, with very little increase in income; they come back home through even more traffic at the end of the day; then they come home to their businesses in a quest to make even more money. In spite of all the work and time they are putting into their day jobs and night time businesses, many people in these types of neighborhoods will never get out of the poverty that they are mired in. The big question is…why? For one, the economy isn’t helpful. Inflation means that the prices of goods and services is constantly going up. This wouldn’t be so bad if salaries are increasing concurrently. But they aren’t. Which means that you have to spend more out of the steady pay you are getting. Think rent, water, electricity, feeding, healthcare, spousal and

How Can We Help Poor(er) Women?

A Page from Tom Paulson I was heading home on November 6, 2018, when my sister called me to get her some juice. It was about 8:50pm and I was really tired. I told her I wouldn’t do it but when I got to my junction, I decided it wouldn’t hurt to get her the juice.  It was as I was walking to the provisions store that I saw a woman sitting on the side of the road, with her legs spread out and her hand scratching her head. She was dressed in mis-matched Ankara clothes and she had a look of utter defeat about her. At first glanced, she looked like she had some mental problems; the kind that could not be corrected. And because of how she sat, I didn’t immediately see the children by her side. When I got closer, I saw that she had one child pressed to her body. And behind her on the staircase of the shop closest to the one I was going to, were two other children sleeping on the bare floor. They were covered in dust from rolling on the ground. It was heartbreaking to see that the children couldn’t have been older than 5. I slowed down to really look at her…and then I walked past. I concluded that she may have lost her mind and I didn’t want to be chased down for not minding my business. So, I went to the shop and got my juice.  When I got out of the shop, I looked in the direction she sat and saw that she was still there. At this point, I knew that I couldn’t leave her – with those kids sleeping on the road – without doing anything. It was also at that point that I saw that there were two other children with her, bringing the total number to five. Those children, and the utter helplessness of their situation, convinced me to take the risk and walk up to her.  ‘Madam, wetin happen?’ I asked in pidgin English.  She looked at me and turned away. And looked at me again, as if deciding whether to talk or not.  ‘I need help.’ She responded quietly. ‘Where is your house?’ I asked.  She pointed in the direction I had come from. I asked again, prodding her to say more.  ‘Phase 1 side.’  Those were the only words she said. And hearing that, I made my first mistake.  ‘Ha ahn! Why you allow your children sleep for road like this? E no good now. See as them lie down for bare ground like this. E no good at all. Oya…stand up.’ I remember exactly what I said because I feel so ashamed of it afterwards.  She looked at me as I spoke to her and I could tell that she was equally ashamed to be in that situation. She started to gather her things as I opened my purse and took out money.  N500.  By this time, a crowd had begun to gather, and I didn’t want to be seen giving her money. So, I quickly thrust the money in her hand and said, ‘Oya…get up and go home.’ And I walked away from the crowd that was sending blessings my way as they gathered around her.  I saw some other people giving her money and one man even flagged a Keke for her and her children. The woman was on her feet at this point and that was when I saw she was pregnant; probably in her third trimester.  I realized I had fucked up.  I mulled over everything that happened and when I finally got home and relayed the story to my sister, she confirmed what I had been feeling. I should have done more.  I had prejudged the woman ‘crazy’ before even reaching her. If I hadn’t, I would have seen that she was just a really frustrated woman who was going through a lot. I wouldn’t have waited to get into the shop before making my mind up to talk to her. And when I finally did, I let the crowd rattle me because I am not comfortable with helping people in the eye of the public. But what is worse is that, everything I had learned in the last two years about solving problems flew out of my head when faced with one.  Rather than just give her money, I should have asked a few more questions after she said she needed help. What was wrong? Why was she on the road? What kind of help did she need? Did she have a job? A business? Anything? What skills did she have? Were those all her children? Did she have a home to go to? Did she have a partner? What did he do? Where was he at that moment? Was she running away from him? I know that there are even more questions that I could have asked. The answers to these questions would have better informed how I helped her rather than just giving her a little money. Knowing about the underlying issues that drove her to the road at night with five children and one on the way could have presented me the opportunity to offer her a job or begin to look for someone who could.  But I gave her N500 and left. N500 which was my juice money. N500 which could solve some of her problems for that night and drive her back to the road again the next day.  I am ashamed of myself and how I reacted. I wish I could go back in time and undo my reaction. I wish I had been more perceptive and patient when dealing with her. I wish I had ignored the crowd and treated her as someone with full agency, rather than some I could tell what to do. I wished I hadn’t been more focused on aesthetics rather than her humanity. Because right there is the crux of the matter! I was more concerned about how the situation looked that I did not

Unsung Heroes: Mai Ruwa

Due to a failure of government to meet basic infrastructural necessities like constant power supply, running water, good health care and quality education for its citizens, many people are constantly having to provide these necessities for themselves. In fact, it has become quite normal for households to provide their own water and electricity and pay exorbitant fees for quality education and healthcare for themselves and their families. Personally, I can’t remember when we had water flowing from the tap from the water board. If I could put a time to it, I would have to say when I was an early teen. I remember this because for the longest time, we used to fetch water at our neighbors’ wells to fill the big drums that most big families had. And when these neighbors didn’t have water or there was short supply during the dry season, we were always prevented from fetching water. This continued until we dug our own well and became kings. Soon enough, many families started to bore holes in their houses and rig a system that stores and distributes water to them. It has become common place to see each house with its own ‘GP Tank’; typical case of a brand name replacing the generic name. As it is right now, the skyline of many houses are dotted with these water storage tanks. Drilling boreholes is not cheap. It costs anywhere from ₦150,000 to ₦2 million. In a country where 64% of the populace lives below the poverty line and is expected to take over from India as the poverty capital capital of the world (United Nations: Nigeria’s Common Country Analysis, 2016), where general unemployment rate is at a whopping 18.8% (Nigeria Bureau of Statistics, 2017 Q3 Report) and where the average person struggles daily, access to clean, safe water is an ever-constant issue. This means that though all households need water, not all families can afford to have boreholes installed in their homes. ‘GP Tanks’ for storing water pumped from a borehole.  Image: Premium Times Nigeria This is where the Mai Ruwa comes in. The Mai Ruwa is a Hausa term which translates to ‘water seller’. The term can be used for a person who has a borehole and sells water to people who go to them to fetch or to one who takes water in 20-litre jerrycans to people’s houses to sell. In most cases, it refers to the latter. A typical Mai Ruwa starter pack is a trolley (or truck as they are popularly called), 12 to 14 jerrycans and an able bodied man with the simplest of clothes and worn out shoes. Unfortunately, I haven’t ever seen a female Mai Ruwa. Or should I say, fortunately. So this is one of those jobs that is strictly an all men affair. The job requires pushing a truck carrying around 300 litres of water from street to street calling out people to buy. In poorer neighborhood, they don’t need to scream as much; there will always be people willing to buy. But in richer neighborhoods – and by richer I mean middle class neighborhoods because no one in the upper class bothers about these kinds of problems – it is an uphill task selling water there. Most people in these types of neighborhood only buy water when they have gone days or even weeks without power supply to pump water. Or, if the pumping machine for the boreholes are bad.  Which was what happened to me last me last week. I recently moved from a core ghetto to a slightly better neighborhood. The house was still getting some work done so there was barely any water in house. I knew I had to get a Mai Ruwa to supply me water until the problem was fixed. When I was in the ghetto, all I needed to do was walk out of my gate and find someone selling water. But in this new neighborhood, that wasn’t the case. Everyone in the neighborhood had their own boreholes and didn’t need the services of a Mai Ruwa. I had to walk a long distance to find out. By this time, I was already tired and sweating profusely. But I found one! When I told him where we were going, he said each jerrycan cost ₦30. I told him I only wanted 7. He agreed and we set off for the long journey to my house. Mai Ruwa pushing his truck down a hill. Unlike my Mai Ruwa, this seems much easier even though it is still a lot of work.  Image: Wikimedia Commons Now here is what I didn’t tell you. My house is atop a small hill and the entire road leading to the house is rugged, uneven and bumpy. Walking up the hill is a chore. Now imagine what pushing a truck with 300-litres of water means. As the Mai Ruwa started climbing the hill, I knew it was going to be an uphill task. (You know I did that on purpose, right?). He pushed the truck in one direction and was shocked when the truck rolled back and nearly toppled over. He used all his strength to keep the truck aright and paused to assess the road. I could see the wheels of his mind working as he considered what path to take that would offer the least resistance. He took off his shoes and started again. The truck kept swerving and the contents nearly spilling. He had done this like five or seven times when I saw he was almost quitting. I knew I had to do something. If he quit, it meant I wouldn’t get any water. If I was to get water, I had to help out. So I offered. Again, I could see him contemplating. I can almost swear he was wondering what kind of help I could offer since I am a woman. But he was already sweating and puffing. You could tell that the work had taken a toll on him.

Increasing Number of Agberos in Our Communities

‘Nyanya here! Nyanya one person!’ ‘Ikeja along, Mangoro, Iyana Ipaja, Igando! Ikeja along, Mangoro, Iyana Ipaja, Igando wole wole!’ ‘Yola, Yola, Yola! Shiga da changey! Yola, Yola, Yola!’ ‘Sabo! Sabo! Sister come enter this bus. E done full!’ ‘One chance to Enugu! Come enter direct moto go Enugu!’ These are some of the calls you hear when you are at motor parks in many cities in Nigeria. For the most part, these calls are not made by bus conductors as they are popularly referred to. They are made by young men – agberos if you may – hanging around such parks. So…here is the scenario. Young men find popular motor parks – whether official or otherwise – and loiter around calling out destinations to would-be passengers. When they fill up a car, the driver tips them with some money, ranging from ₦20 to ₦100; depending on the location and how much is charged per passenger. These men repeat the cycle as they make their daily keep. In any given location, you usually find two, maybe three men acting as mouthpieces of the drivers. They chase after commuters and generally serve to ensure each car fills up in quick time. Every minute wasted is a minute where they don’t make money. The longer they spend filling up a car, the more likely they lose out on other cars trying to get passengers. And no one wants to miss that ever crucial ₦20 or ₦50. Over the last few years however, I have noticed that the number of men at any given park have more than tripled. And beyond that, the number of spots where you can find these men has increased. In the past, these men could only be found at major transportation parks or bus-stops but now, you can find them at small junctions. What is with the increasing number of agberos in our communities? This can be partly blamed on the rate of unemployment in Nigeria, which is pegged at 14.2%; a figure quoted in the most recent National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) report. The negative economic growth and recession which Nigeria is just coming out of took its toll on many citizens and can be said to have played a role in increasing the number of these unemployed men. But that isn’t the only problem. Many of these men are uneducated and are not qualified for anything more than unskilled labor. So what happens when there are no jobs for even the unskilled and uneducated? The number of agberosincrease. They seem to be crawling all over themselves in an attempt to get more money; which is expected really. And funny enough, there are times when the drivers do not want their services. They specifically tell them not to call anyone. Do they listen? No! They literally just do what they want and stand around waiting to be ‘paid’. Sometimes, the drivers feel bad and give them a little tip. Other times, the drivers refuse to enable their truancy. When this happens, the agberos usually go into a tirade and sometimes bang the cars. In many of these instances, a physical altercation is almost always the end result. But drivers try to avoid that because they know that it would be a case of mob violence. So they pay. What makes this worrisome is that it isn’t only young men that do this. At the Jikwoyi Phase 2 Junction in Abuja, there is an old agbero who calls out destinations for Keke (tricycle) riders. They call him ‘Police’. This man must be in his sixties or seventies. It is either that or he has suffered a lot and life has aged him beyond his years. He looks haggard as he shouts out destinations, urging passengers to get into the Keke with their change. When he is done, the Kekedriver usually gives him ₦10 or ₦20; depending on how generous they are feeling. It breaks my heart to see that old man at the junction every day and night. Well…it did until I walked past him one evening and his smell hit me; he was reeking of cheap alcohol! From my deduction, the old man spent whatever he made drowning himself in alcohol. This was a man that had given up on life. Like the old man at Jikwoyi, many of these agberos are drug abusers. A simple walk past them can prove that and if that is too much, just watching them ‘work’ is all the proof you will need. They are so excitable, easily offended and quicker even to throw blows. It is no wonder that many of these parks are rings of constant turf wars between the young men and sometimes, with older men. These people need to survive and survival means being tougher, more high-strung, more willing to protect your little turf and being quicker than the next guy. I think these men should be banned by law so they do not take over every little street and corner where people may or may not seek public transportation. But that is not realistic. We need viable solutions that solve the problem in the long run so that we don’t have to return to it in the near future. What should these solutions look like? I think they should be tied to the economic recovery plan of Nigeria’s administration. The government is looking at diversifying Nigeria’s economy beyond an oil-based revenue generation to agriculture. With the wide variety of food and cash crops that can grow in Nigeria, the opportunities in the agricultural sector cannot be depleted. From farming, to processing and distribution, there are millions of job that can be created from effectively drawing up and funding an agricultural road map to success. How do these agberos fit in? Quite simple. The leaders of each local government area and state should recruit these men and train them on the basics of agriculture. The training should serve to separate these men into the categories that they

Someone Always Has It Worse Than You

A little child looking at his mother.Image: Tolu Bamwo for I returned to Yola, Adamawa State, at the end of May 2016 after being away for five months. I came in at night and didn’t notice all the changes in my house; and there were many. I, however, saw that the security man’s house was filled with people; a woman, her children and a young man. I ignored them and went into my house. The next day, I woke up to the sound of a crying baby. I got up, looked out of the window and saw that the compound was littered with bits and pieces of household materials. The woman I had seen the night before was right in the middle of the mess preparing their breakfast while calming the wailing baby. I went out to my neighbor and asked who they were. He told me they were renting the place. I was shocked! How could they be renting the security man’s cubicle? He told me that the place was even going for ₦40,000 and I balked further. I went back to my room and from the window, watched the family. The husband – the young man I saw when I came in – was a laundry man in a hotel close to my house. Without even asking, one could tell that he was not formally educated. Seeing this, I knew the wife would be uneducated too. I continued watching. Front View of the Security Man’s Cubicle They have five children; two girls and three boys. The boys were the middle children. The first girl looked like a teenager but it was very hard to determine the ages of the boys because they were smallish, thin and had an air of malnutrition about them. After a while, I made my decision and left the window. Since I was away for such a long time, you can imagine how dusty my house was. I started cleaning. Soon enough, I had three piles; what I wanted to take back to Kaduna, what I wanted to give away and what I wanted to destroy because they could not be used by anyone. When I had the clearly defined piles, I went to my neighbor and asked if the woman would feel some type of way if I gave her the pile I wanted to give away. He said she would appreciate it; very much. I decided that I would go to her at night with the things to spare her any embarrassment…or spare me any. I went back in and pulled the things I wanted to destroy out of my room and towards the refuse bin. After that, I went back into my room to continue working. Side view of the security man’s cubicle. I was interrupted by gleeful shouts in Hausa. I went back to my window and saw the kids jumping and shouting. ‘Mama, look what I got!’ ‘Mine is better!’ ‘No! Mama look! See what I found again’. They were rummaging through my trash and rejoicing at their ‘finds’. A veil of shame came over me. I had been in a dump for months because I felt like my life was at a plateau. I was unhappy about my finances and wondering whether my career would ever pick up. I was depressed about everything and every situation in my life. I stopped smiling genuinely and literally became a recluse. And before me were children whom, going through my trash, were happy at what they ‘found’! Their mother collected their finds and kept them in her room. When I saw that, I was even more ashamed. Why did I make a choice to be gloomy? To be sad? To be unhappy?  I lived alone in my house and seven of them shared a cubicle that was about a third of my apartment. Yet, they maintained their joy and happiness. I was ashamed that I had become ungrateful for the many simple pleasures in my life. I had become a serial complainer who spent most of her time whining about the things I lacked. For days, I watched this family and learned that the children did not go to school; the first girl was a maid somewhere; the mother used traditional medicine methods when the toddler was sick; and the father beat the kids so bad that it bordered on abuse. In all, I never saw them without a smile on their faces and though they look gaunt, they look happy. This family gave me a reality check. Yes things are bad. Yes things are not going the way I planned. But I control the way I react to the lemonades life is throwing at me. I can decide to be gloomy and sad or I can choose to maintain a bright demeanor in spite of it all. This family reminded me to enjoy the simple things of life. It is never as bad as we think. I hope we can all remember to smile through whatever we are going through at the moment. My prayer is that we remember to be grateful for the ‘little things’ in our lives. Know this; someone has it worse than you! Someone always has it worse than you! This doesn’t negate your emotions when you are faced with tough choices or a tough life. I am just saying that it works to walk through your process with a positive outlook to life. If you can, do something for someone who has it worse than you do. It doesn’t matter what you choose to do; just do something!

Quick Links

Find Us:

Beaufort Court Estate,

Lugbe, Abuja.

Call Us: