COVID-19: The Hunger Virus

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Original: “Gaskiya mun gode. Da yawa suna kwana da nunwa. Ba abinci. Ciwon cororo ko mene. Ba sai ya zo ba. Nunwa zai keshe wanisu. Nunwa Virus”

Direct Translation to English: “We are honestly grateful. A lot of us are sleeping hungry. No Good. That sickness ‘Cororo’ or whatever the name is. It doesn’t need to come. Hunger will kill some. Hunger Virus”

This is an excerpt from what an old woman in a community we visited with food packages said.

It’s been a month now since I got involved in a project tagged the #Covid19FoodDriveJos. The project was birthed out of concern for people from low-income backgrounds and daily bread ‘hand to mouth’ winners in the wake of Corona and Lockdown implementations in Plateau State. At the start of the project, I knew some poor people were going hungry, but the reality hit me more when we hit the streets. There are a lot of stories, but I’ll share only a few.

On our second outreach, my group planned to share food packages to people living in Jenta. Jenta is an area in Jos, Plateau State tagged GRA (Government Rejected Area) by its residents. Our system of distribution didn’t involve going door to door so as usual we called the people in Jenta and asked them to meet us on the main road. Two weeks ago, we parked at the same spot and given food to our contacts without drama. That Saturday was different. Within 2 minutes our car was surrounded by about 20 people while the contacts we were expecting were about eight in number. Before we knew it, it had become a mob of Angry Nigerians. They were hungry, and a hungry man is an angry man. What broke my heart that day wasn’t that I could have gotten lynched and my car burnt; but the rejection, defeat, and hunger I saw in those people’s eyes.

The next day being a Sunday, I went to get something in town and I saw Almajiri boys begging for alms. I immediately got so angry. The Almajiri system continues despite no planned future or structure to improve these kids. These children are at risk and potential couriers for the Virus. I got more disturbed a few days later I heard that State Governments are deporting Almajiris to their states of origin. It made me worry about why our Nigerian government hardly made reasonable efforts to plan and implement policies, or at least show empathy.

On the last day of our outreach, I met someone and immediately felt he had no worries because he was a ‘fresh guy’. I even wondered how he could be in a dire condition because he looked well. But when he began to talk and appreciate me and told me his story I was broken again. Young, married with a child, and making a daily income. Whatever savings he had, he had used to stock up before the first lockdown and it was all gone – they had been living on garri.

In the course of sharing our food packs, similar stories kept reaching our ears. There was the story of a Banana Hawker with three sets of twins and two other children. With stories like this being rampant, I believe it’s important to address certain topics once the pandemic is over. We all have a role to encourage family planning and abolish the Almajiri system.

Notably, many Nigerians live from hand to mouth, obtaining a daily wage to survive, and that is not okay. These are stories from Jos, imagine other states across the country. The Hunger virus is surely capacitated to reap more than the Corona Virus and its no wonder some people honestly don’t care about the pandemic.

The Federal and State Governments have engaged ‘fishy’ projects to share palliatives. But these projects even if properly managed, cannot mitigate the hunger virus. Private individuals and NGO’s are playing their part too, but I think we will lose this battle against the Hunger Virus in the Corona Era. It is my prayer that once the storm passes, we pay more attention to the root issues of poverty in Nigeria. The dangers the average Nigerian is exposed to and how best to eliminate the Hunger Virus, its twin.

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