Soaring food prices hit students and may sway their votes

On university campuses in Nigeria students have been feeling the impact of an economy in which the naira appears to have been in free fall and food inflation has increased by at least 400% from 2015.

Indeed, the Nigerian economy has been going through a bad pummelling from 2015 to date under the current government of President Muhammadu Buhari. In fact, according to some reports, Nigerians have been experiencing the lowest period economically in the past few years since independence about four decades ago. And, on university campuses, students have been going hungry because of the state of the economy.

University authorities have had to wade in and compel operators of cafeterias to adjust their food services. Rationing of spoons of rice and other food items has become commonplace – a measure to accommodate the students’ lean purses and avert starvation.

University World News has found that, in many institutions, students have been forced to devise ingenious ways of ensuring they have food in their tummies. Students who have to choose whether to eat breakfast, lunch or dinner because they cannot afford all three meals, sometimes only opt for one. As a result, they literally select the best time of the day to go for the meal and skip the others. They bring snacks from home such as fried chin chin, [containing flour, sometimes milk, and eggs] which parents give to them.

Landmark University, a private institution located in Omu-Arun, Kwara State, which prides itself as one of the country’s mainstays in agricultural research, was faced with this challenge of rising prices of food and the need to prevent students from starving.

In the last quarter of 2022, the school wrote to parents about the increase in prices of food and the measures the authorities have put in place to cushion the effect.

The letter sent to parents and guardians at the end of 2022, signed by the Dean of Student Affairs, Dr Rasaq Adekunle Animashahun, read: “Dear parent, consequent to the current reality of the economic situation in the country which has adversely affected prices of food commodities, and thoughtful deliberation with relevant directorate and units in charge of students’ welfare, the university management is constrained to inform parents of a food price review, most especially the price of rice and the implication to students.

“It is important to note that prices of food commodities in the country have consistently sky-rocketed for months now. While the university must protect the interests of the students, it must do so with a sense of balance so that the campus we operate can remain sustainable. “Hence, parents are encouraged to increase food allowances to their ward(s).”

The Vice-chancellor of the University of Ibadan, Professor Kayode Adebowale, alluded to the soaring prices of foodstuffs at a stakeholders’ meeting on the campus on 18 December 2022, saying that the prices of food and inflation are causing undernutrition, obesity and other diet-related conditions.

Said Adebowale: “People experiencing poverty are disproportionately affected by rising food prices and rising inflation. Such people are forced to employ coping strategies such as skipping meals, reducing the amount they eat, preparing meals with fewer nutritious foods, and buying cheaper food options.”

The manager of Kenny Bee Cafeteria at Bowen University in Iwo, in Osun State, Banjo Akindele, disclosed the efforts of the university authorities to intervene in the food crisis affecting students. He noted that “… students don’t eat three meals a day”.

“We were selling rice per spoon for NGN70 (US$0.15) because the school directed us to sell it at this price. But now, after the price of food went up, the school directed us to sell for NGN100 and so, now we sell a spoon of rice for NGN100. Before, we were selling eggs for NGN80, they are now NGN100. So, [on the whole] most students cannot afford to buy food the way they were buying before. Most students can’t afford to buy food containing protein.”

Against this backdrop, experts in economics and governance have said the next president elected in Nigeria’s presidential election on February 25, 2023 must be ready to reinvent the wheels of governance and rejuvenate the productive sector.

Senior economist at SPM Professionals Paul Alaje took a look at the Nigerian economy and affirmed that the next president must be ready to take the bull by the horns and embark on some drastic decisions.

“The government will need to do everything possible to increase revenue and also increase expenditure. When these are done together, Nigeria may, in the next two to three years, have a new set of prosperous people, and have fewer poor people,” he said.

Alaje also spoke about the current food crisis and government corruption as two evils that must be tackled head-on: “Whoever emerges among the top three contenders must, as a matter of urgency, tackle insecurity.

“As we know, the price of rice in some malls and supermarkets is NGN50,000 [US$108.50] for a 50kg bag. In some open markets, you may not see it for less than NGN35,000. This was not the case four years ago or even eight years ago. The price has since been multiplied by two, three or four, in some instances.”

He said, to end this food insecurity, the government must fight the general insecurity which is causing a lot of discomfort for Nigerians.

But what is clear is that, whoever emerges the winner of the 2023 presidential election must be ready to do more to rebuild the economy.