Recently #SecureNorth has been trending on various social media platforms to demand securing a region that has been ravaged by activities of armed bandits who have operated without consequences. According to reports making the round across the country, armed bandits in some Northern parts of the country like Katsina and Zamfara communities are demanding for “harvest fees” from farmers to allow them access their farms. It is also alleged that at the beginning of the planting season, the bandits also collected monies from local farmers before allowing them to go to their farms.
It is gathered that they collect as much as 900,000 Naira from farmers in some villagers before allowing them to harvest their crops. In the words of Bob Deffinbaugh armed banditry or “stealing has become a national problem of epidemic proportions.” Writing on “Banditry in Nigeria: A brief history of a long war,” Chidi Anselm Odinkalu blames the situation on “mismanagement of natural resources in both the North and the South” while stressing that that was what “energised the transition from urban to rural banditry.” From Boko Haram to activities of cultists, herdsmen, kidnappers and militants, the situation of insecurity in Nigeria is precarious.
Insecurity of lives and livelihoods has serious implications for food security in the coming years. Criminal elements have held different parts of the North-West ranging from Birnin-Gwari in Kaduna to Tsafe in Zamfara, Plateau and some parts of Niger, Benue and Taraba states. To be sure, the Middle Belt region has arable land and is rich in livestock. No thanks to farmer-herder clashes and armed banditry, farming activities in the last three to four years have been a total fiasco. Apparently, we might be in for a food crisis in the coming years.
In a study, Ijatuyi, Omotayo and Nkonki-Mandleni (2017) found that rural farming households in North West Province were witnessing different dimensions of food insecurity. In like manner, the latest Cadre Harmonisé analysis (November 2019) indicates that “an estimated 2.6 million people face severe food insecurity in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states, a reduction of nearly 300 000 people from June 2019.” According to United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) “Nigeria has emerged as one of the countries to be most hit by food crisis across the globe in the face of the coronavirus pandemic which had worsened the already bad situation.” To think that criminal gangs now waylay farmers and either cart away farm produce or demand fees in order to allow the latter access their farms is even more threatening.
Aside from bad governance and poor policy implementation, bribery and corruption, insurgency and armed banditry have huge implications for Nigeria’s socio-economic development. The cliché “social and economic development cannot thrive in an atmosphere of peace” underscores the importance of peace and security. It is crucial for government to rejig the security apparatus in the country. While the body language of the government of the day does not seem to support the demand for state policing, nonetheless, that is likely the goose that would lay the golden egg. Regarding the demands of #EndSARS protesters, stepping up our policing system to international best practices is key. Training in digital espionage plus combing community policing and state-policing would likely produce results. To be fair to them, our police officers appear combat ready but they lack the requisite tolls of engagement.
The apparent lack of synergy amongst the armed forces has been blamed for failure to flush out all criminal elements across the country. One would have expected that the army, air force and navy would collaborate with the Department of State Services (DSS) as well as other paramilitary agencies like the Nigeria Police Force, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, Nigeria Immigration Service, Nigeria Customs Service et al in intelligence so as to deliver the nation from marauders who have held us captive. The Service Chiefs must lead the way in this regard. As the saying goes, “a stitch in time saves nine.”
Nigerians had taken President Muhammadu Buhari’s threefold manifesto of tackling insecurity, fighting corruption and fixing the economy hook, line and sinker. Unfortunately, close to two years into his second tenure, Nigerians now know better. It is not surprising then that even those who over-celebrated his victory at the polls are critical of his administration. With an insecure nation where corruption has eaten deep into its fabric plus an ailing economy, the country appears way out in the woods. It is even more worrisome that harvesters can longer sleep with their two eyes closed as they are caught in-between the devil and the deep blue sea – to either leave their farm produce for rodents or pay armed bandits before they can harvest in peace. What is the use of government if it cannot protect lives and livelihoods? Why does government encourage farming when it cannot protect farmers from bandits?
In line with the top priorities of the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nation’s assistance in Nigeria, government and other relevant stakeholders should ensure improvement in national food and nutrition security, support for agricultural policy and regulatory framework as well as Agricultural Transformation Agenda; this is in addition to promoting decent employment for youth and women, increasing agricultural productivity and creating an enabling environment for increased market access; ensuring sustainable management of natural resources, improved disaster risk reduction and emergency management are equally crucial. As a matter of urgency, government and other humanitarian actors ought to “plan for continued high food assistance needs through at least the beginning of 2021.” Before then, those saddled with the responsibility of peace and security must return to the various crime scenes cross the nation to avert further acts of arson. God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria!
Fr. Dyikuk is a Lecturer of Mass Communication, University of Jos, Editor – Caritas Newspaper and Convener, Media Team Network Initiative (MTNI), Nigeria.