Nigeria: Oil Rich But Hungry

Twenty-five years ago Abdullahi Tijjani had a vision for Kuki, a village in the north of Nigeria he became chief of at age 14: "Hunger will become a thing of the past once we marry modern technologies and traditional farming," he told reporter David Hecht when they met in 1984 in the mud-brick structure he called his palace.

Tijjani had reason to feel inspired. Nigeria's oil-rich military government had just completed a new dam nearby and a local oil tycoon was setting up a 3,000-acre industrial irrigation farm. But that industrial farm now lies abandoned and farmers of Kuki never got access to water from the dam. "The marriage failed," Tijjani told Hecht 25 years later. Locals became so disheartened many gave up farming and moved to cities. "Now we're even losing our ability to subsist," he said.

A growing number of people in what is Africa's most populous nation of 140 million are going hungry. And as poorer neighboring countries export more food to Nigeria in exchange for petrodollars, people there also go hungry. In 2005 thousands of children in neighboring Niger died of malnutrition not because the country had had a particularly bad harvest but because there was a food shortage in Nigeria and people in Niger could not afford the ensuing higher prices. Experts say that even though Nigeria faces a serious food security threat they also recognize the country's potential. Nigeria has enough fertile land to feed itself and much of the region, if only its oil wealth were invested more wisely.

Nigeria: Durbah Festival Images

During the annual Durbah festival, over the period of Eid, the various district heads of each Emirate come to their Emir to show their strength in warriors and horsemen and to demonstrate that they are ready to defend his realm.

In former days, farmers would also seek to demonstrate their capacity in food production. The most productive farmers would be rewarded with courtly titles. But the role of the Emir is now largely symbolic; he can no longer offer incentives to increase production.

Nigeria: One Reason for Low Productivity

This weekend Nigerian journalist Abubakar Kabir Matazu invited me to drive with him and his children to his home town of Katsina in the far north of Nigeria to celebrate the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha. Katsina is known as a ancient center of Islamic learning and Eid is the day thousands of brightly regaled horsemen parade before the Emir (see photos in my next posting). However I wanted to go to meet Matazu's father Alhaji Kabir Matazu, who is what one might call a middle class Nigerian farmer, and he is struggling.

Nigeria: Massacre in Jos

I arrive in Nigeria with news that hundreds of people have been killed in the town of Jos as a result of fighting between Muslims and Christians. There hasn't been a major outbreak of so-called "religious violence" in Nigeria for years and it was looking like a problem of the past. But the violence has always come as somewhat of a surprise and a mystery.

When I was in Jos earlier in the year I had seen how hard religious and ethnic leaders had worked to mend divisions and change ways people thought of each other.