The agricultural sector holds the key to the country’s drive for economic diversification. But, food production has been undermined by insecurity in recent times, particularly the activities of Boko Haram insurgents in the Northeast, as well as those of bandits in the Northwest and the growing violent conflicts between nomadic herders and sedentary agrarian communities in the North-central and elsewhere in the country. Deputy Political Editor RAYMOND MORDI who has been following the development reports
There is growing anger in the Southwest over the activities of some pastoralists in the region, which have led to clashes between them and farmers in their host communities. It is instructive to note that incessant clashes between farmers and herders are not new in Nigeria. But, it appears to have assumed a new dimension in recent times. The development has eroded the relationship between the host communities and the settlers. One of the factors responsible for this, according to experts, is because the pasture available to herders is shrinking as a result of changing weather patterns brought about by climate change.
Indeed, the country has been in a war-like state for some time, with Boko Haram insurgents still holding sway in the Northeast, bandits terrorizing the Northwest and herders armed with AK47 rifles roaming the North-central and other parts of the country on the lookout for victims to kidnap for ransom. For instance, there was outrage across the country and beyond after more than 43 labourers working in rice fields at Zabarmari, Jere Local Government Area of Borno State were slaughtered by Boko Haram insurgents late last year. Reports say the attackers tied up the labourers and slit their throats. Following the Zabarmari massacre, Borno State Governor Babagana Zulum admitted that the insurgents remain strong in most parts of the state, especially in Sambisa Forest, river fringes of Koshobe and the Lake Chad Basin.
Destabilised economic base
The growing insecurity in the country has destabilized the economic base of the country, particularly food production in the Northeast, the Northwest and the North-central. The price of foodstuff has increased considerably in recent times, owing to the activities of Boko Haram insurgents in the Northeast, bandits in the Northwest and those of herders in the North-central. The Northwest states of Zamfara, Kaduna and Katsina, which used to be the bastion of security and stability, are also currently under siege, following the upsurge in the activities of bandits in rural communities. The Middle Belt, which is the food basket of the nation, has been under siege from herders in recent years.
The agricultural sector holds the key to the country’s drive for economic diversification. But, food production has been undermined by violent conflicts between nomadic herders from the North and sedentary agrarian communities in the North-central and elsewhere in the country. Such violent clashes have escalated in recent years and are spreading southward, threatening the country’s security and stability. Government’s response to the crisis at both the federal and state levels has been poor. The insecurity has reached a stage where most members of the National Assembly, particularly from the North, can no longer go to their hometowns because of the fear of being kidnapped. They live perpetually in Abuja now because insecurity has taken over a large expanse of land in the North. Increasingly, it is now spreading to the South. Initially, when it began spreading from the Northeast to the Northwest, people in the South felt secure because they thought it was entirely a northern affair. But, this is no longer the case.
Observers say the situation is made worse by the absence of effective community policing mechanisms capable of addressing the hinterlands’ peculiar security challenges. As the conflicts increase in frequency, intensity and geographical scope, so does their humanitarian and economic toll. The increasing availability of illicit firearms, both locally-produced and smuggled in from outside, worsens the bloodshed.
Speaking about the activities of the nefarious activities of the herders, a journalist and a commentator on national affairs, Mr. Gbola Oba said what Nigerians are witnessing is a systemic land grabbing episodes perpetrated against the minority ethnic groups in the Middle Belt, particularly Southern Kaduna, Plateau, Benue and Taraba and that this has been going on for the last 40 years. Oba who made the remark on City FM last Wednesday attributed it to the disintegration of the Sahel, which led to Fulani youth exodus from countries like Guinea, Niger, Mali and Senegal to Nigeria.
He said: “While most other youths are attempting to face the direction of Europe, the Fulani stock in Guinea, Niger, Mali and Senegal kept coming downwards, looking for green pastures and the Northwest states of Zamfara, Sokoto and Kebbi were the first casualties. We thought it was just a northern phenomenon, but we have seen the reality because they are now in Oyo, Ogun and almost in Lagos because they are already in Agbara, which is between Lagos and Ogun State. There are reported cases of a concentration of armed, young Fulani men in Agbara, which is technically Ogun State, but it is as good as Lagos.”
The resultant insecurity is affecting the prices of goods adversely, particularly foodstuff. In Gbola Oba’s words: “We are now in a situation where prices of foodstuff are said to be increasing as a result of instability and insecurity in rural areas, where most of the food consumed in the country are produced.”
The Chairman of the Kebbi State Rice Farmers’ Association, Mohammed Augie corroborates Oba’s view. In his terse response to our reporter’s question on the telephone, Augie said rice farmers in the state are affected by the insecurity in the Northwest just like other people in the region. He said sometimes the farmers are afraid of going to their farms for fear of being kidnapped for ransom. He added: “In such times, we can only go to farms in nearby towns because the ones far from major towns are usually safe havens for the bandits.”
Open grazing and insecurity
Food safety activist and founder, Safe Food and Feed Foundation, Prof Dele Fapohunda blames the increasing incident of open grazing supervised by herders that do not brook any contradiction because they are armed with AK-47 rifle. He said the basic variables in food production are land and fund. For food production to take place, he added, it is assumed that a farmer is fairly safe on his farm, even till late in the night. He said: “Of recent, another factor, on-site banditry, has been added to the equation. This strange addition otherwise called insecurity now seems to carry more weight than all other factors combined, in the successful prosecution of an agro project. It becomes more worrisome when the source of discord is not the ownership structure by the farmers, but a grazing right of an invader. It is annoying to tag the situation herder-farmer clash. In truth, it is herders’ invasion of another person’s farmland.
“When the activities of the herders, who are private investors, look like those of land grabbers, then the picture is very dangerous and the future looks dirty. Why should the herder carry a gun, if not to suppress an unwilling host? In Nigeria, herders’ invasion of other peoples’ farms is now an established agro stressor. Unlike drought and flooding which are traceable to nature and therefore, beyond man, agriculture in Nigeria may be experiencing its worst man-made disaster through insecurity. For many years to come, Nigerians will continue to count the costs of today’s indecision and indiscretion. The atmosphere is tense and unpredictable, particularly when the option of self-help is now becoming a pan-Nigeria choice. The youths are scared to go to farms, while the older generations are phasing out. Income has dwindled through local supply gaps and zero export.”
The food safety activist said the stress due to supply gaps creates farm-fear and abandonment. His words: “Farm-fear will result in food shortages, and food processing will be at a discount as raw materials cannot meet the demand profile. The effect is that some parts of the country are now experiencing acute food shortage and famine. Although the state provides internally displaced persons’ (IDP) camps as an emergency step, most of the affected households feel debased and dehumanized by the single act of needless dependence on others for survival. When farmers are dislodged, food shortage is imminent and when aid workers become the target of armed attacks then, Nigeria cannot be on track to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal Number 2, which emphasizes zero hunger by the year 2030.
“This goal specifically says ‘end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture’. In the face of an uneven but continuous violence against the innocent farmers, this goal cannot be actualized. Meanwhile, the African continent where Nigeria plays a strategic role by population, the number of undernourished is growing faster than anywhere in the world as stated in a recent report by the United Nations.”
A senior lecturer at the Department of Political Science, Federal University, Lafia, Nasarawa State, Dr. Chukwuma Okoli said the prevailing socio-existential conditions in the Northwest have complicated the security situation. His words: “The rural pastoral sector is not well regulated. Illicit artisanal mining and the proliferation of arms in the region are also veritable factors. Geography plays a role, too. The zone’s forestlands are vast, rugged and hazardous. They are also grossly under-policed. Some of the forests run alongside the diverse porous borderlines on the region’s frontiers. Borders are poorly delineated, under-policed and thus not well-governed. The consequence of this is an abundance of nefarious activity, often facilitated by criminal syndicates.
“Rural banditry in the Northwest also derives impetus from the poorly governed mining and small arms sector. Bandits have been drawn to the region by illicit and artisanal mining in states like Zamfara where bandits have been raiding mining sites for gold and cash. The Federal Government has recognised the apparent linkage between rural banditry and illicit mining. It suspended all forms of mining in Zamfara State in early April of 2019.
“Transhumance – the movement of cattle – is poorly regulated. This has seen it being infiltrated by criminals, which has led to the intensification of cattle rustling in the region. In states such as Kaduna, Katsina, Zamfara and Kebbi, there exists a clan of livestock bandits who specialise in mass cattle raids. While some of these cattle rustling gangs are affiliated with local and transnational syndicates, a number of them are mercenaries of Boko Haram. Cattle rustling constitute a valuable source of funding for the terror group.”
He said the insecurity has been allowed to degenerate into a complex national emergency with dire territorial implications. He added: “This mirrors exactly what happened with the Boko Haram insurgency. From sporadic incidents, Boko Haram began launching systematic attacks targeted at individuals, communities and, eventually, the state.”
The so-called herders-farmers’ clashes are fueled by challenges relating to land and water use, obstruction of traditional migration routes, livestock theft and crop damage. But, it runs deeper than that. The lecturer puts it very succinctly in the following words: “Drought and desertification have degraded pastures, dried up much natural water sources across the country’s far-northern Sahelian belt and forced large numbers of herders to migrate south in search of grassland and water for their herds. Insecurity in many northern states (a consequence of the Boko Haram insurgency in the Northeast and rural banditry and cattle rustling in the Northwest and North-central) also prompts increasing numbers of herdsmen to migrate south.
“The growth of human settlements, expansion of public infrastructure and acquisition of land by large-scale farmers and another private commercial interests have deprived herders of grazing reserves designated by the post-independence government of the former Northern region (now split into nineteen states). Herders migrating into the savannah and rain forests of the North-central and southern states are moving into regions where high population growth over the last four decades has heightened pressure on farmland, increasing the frequency of disputes over crop damage, water pollution and cattle theft. In the absence of mutually accepted mediation mechanisms, these disagreements increasingly turn violent.”
The spread of conflict into the Southwest states and other parts of the south in recent times is aggravating the already fragile relations among the country’s major ethnic and religious groups. It has been acknowledged in recent times that the herders are mostly of the Fulani ethnic stock from outside the country. This has introduced an ethnic dimension to strife. The region’s majority Christian communities resent the influx of predominantly Muslim herders, portrayed in some narratives as an ‘‘Islamisation force’’. Observers say owing to the fact that the Fulani spread across many West and Central African countries, any major confrontation between them and other Nigerian groups could have regional repercussions, drawing in fighters from neighbouring countries.
A security expert and presidential candidate of Grassroots Development Party of Nigeria (GDPN) in the last general elections, Dr. Davidson Akhimien said when insurgency hits a community, it dislocates the fabric, the cohesion, and the co-existence that holds that community together. He added: “It destabilises the economic base of that community, as people abandon their source of livelihood. If it is a rural community, people are forced to abandon their farms and that, in In the long run affects the food security of the nation.
“Insurgency or insecurity breeds mutual suspicion and it could also lead to inter-ethnic conflicts and clashes, where the perpetrators of the insurgency are viewed through the prism of ethnic and religious lines. Insecurity affects the national economy and the capacity of the government to be able to govern effectively. It also affects the legitimacy of governments, particularly where a government is not able to protect its citizens as a result of insurgent activities because that is the first responsibility recognised in the constitution.”
Dr. Akhimien, a retired military intelligence officer and the immediate past National President of the Association of Licensed Private Security Practitioners of Nigeria (ALPSPN), said there is no community or society that exists without security. He said: “That is why it is said that security is the bedrock of human existence. This is why the motto of most nation-states revolves around peace: peace and progress, unity and progress or peace and prosperity. There is nothing that happens without peace as a foundation. As a result, insurgency affects the community and the nation in so many negative ways. It truncates the peace and tranquillity that ought to keep a people together to ensure that they can think straight and grow culturally, economically, socially and spiritually too.
The way forward
What can be done to stem this growing tide of insecurity? Apart from engaging in physical combat with the insurgents and the bandits, Dr. Akhimien said the government must find other ways to prevent the insecurity situation from gaining ground or spreading to other geographical areas. One of such ways, he said, is for leaders at various levels to speak out against it. He added: “It is like a tacit approval if leaders are silent. They should speak out, condemning the reprehensible act and make it clear that it is not in tandem with the religion they practice.”
Another factor that encourages insurgency or banditry is what the retired military officer has described as the political economy of war. He said: “If you look at the situation critically, there is what you call the political economy of war. It would appear that so many groupings are benefitting from this war. There are people who supply the insurgents with all manner of necessities; such people would not want the war to end. Even the armed forces, who continue to get increased funding from the Federal Government, the tendency is that they would not want this funding to stop. So, it is like officers would be torn between the pecuniary financial benefits they are receiving and the love for the country (patriotism).”
Prof Fapohunda said since farmers in different parts of the country are experiencing the same insecurity challenge it is imperative to find a lasting solution that would be acceptable to all the residents of the six geo-political zones in the country. For a lasting resolution of the chaos, he said the use of the word ‘invasion’ must be put in the right context and generally accepted, “because in the southern part of Nigeria, every farmland, or undeveloped land, including forests and river banks belong to a person, a family, the king or the state government”.
The food safety activist also called for a stakeholders’ meeting on agriculture and food security, adding that it has become compulsory, not just necessary at this point in time. He said: “This will bring all the stakeholders together at a round table, to proffer lasting solutions to the crisis.”
He equally called on the Federal Government to put an end to the proliferation of small arms and that those already smuggled into the the country should be collected by the national security forces and by addressing the problem of the porous borders, as a way of checking the inexorable flow of illegal migrants into the country. He added: “This is necessary as there are indications that some of the pastoralists that perpetrate these crimes are not the ones that have been living in different host communities for decades.
“As a result, illegal aliens coming from North Africa should be stopped and those already inside must be profiled and kept under strict watch. Non-Nigerians who have an affinity with some other Nigerians by virtue of language should be made to know they are not Nigerians, who must be guided by a set of rules. Mindless killings just because the killer has guns must be psychologically addressed, among other interventions. The itinerant herders need to be convinced that trekking many kilometres is wasting and unproductive to both cattle and man. They get more income from a healthy cow through its productivity.”