Hunger, starvation imminent over security concerns

…Farmers unable to go to farms due to banditry – el-Rufa’i

…Food calamity looms unless…- CAN

…12.83m citizens in crisis levels – FOA, ActionAid

…We’re finding it difficult to cope – Nigerians

…Don’t worry, we’re combing bandits’ hideouts – Military

The increasing security concerns in Nigeria especially in the North have made it difficult for farmers to go to their farms as they fear being attacked and have consequently fled their communities. BENJAMIN SAMSON in this report examines the effects of the ugly security situation on food production and availability.

Nigeria is currently facing security challenges in different areas; from the North-east that is ravaged by Boko Haram/Islamic State in West Africa (ISWAP), the North-west distressed by armed bandits, the South-east disturbed by the Independent People of Biafra (IPOB) secession group, and the North-central which is battling the age-long farmers,’ herders’ crises. 

el-Rufai’s alarm

Governor Nasir el-Rufa’i of Kaduna state recently said there is a looming food crisis as farmers are unable to go to their farms due to the activities of bandits.

The governor, who emphasised the role of the Department of State Services (DSS) in providing reliable information needed by the Police, Armed Forces and other security agencies for the total defeat of the insurgents, said, “there is urgent need by security agencies to strengthen intelligence gathering, to establish not just the identities, plans and locations of the criminals, but to actively disrupt their capacity to organise and mount attacks on the citizens.”

He noted that the criminal gangs terrorising the North-west region have become more daring and dangerous since recovering from their near defeat in 2015, after the joint operation of the states stopped.

“As Directors of the State Commands of the DSS in the North-west, you are all aware of the immense security challenges across the states in our region. The consequences of these serious security deficits have devastated the rural economy, taken lives and property and made simple travel an ordeal across federal, state and local roads.

 “The governors of the North-west states and Niger state appreciated this salient fact as far back as 2015. We came together to fund simultaneous operations by the federal military and security agencies across the largely ungoverned Kamuku-Kuyambana forest swathes that straddle about seven of our states up to Dajin Rugu in Katsina state. These operations disrupted the cattle rustling gangs, but were unfortunately not sustained as a continuous exercise to dominate these spaces and assert within them the authority of the Nigerian state.

“That the criminal gangs have become more daring and dangerous since recovering from their near defeat in 2015 is obvious across the country,” he said.

He added: “As the lead agency for domestic intelligence and counter-intelligence, the Department of State Services has a vital role to play in providing the reliable information needed by the Police and Armed Forces and other security agencies for the total defeat of these dangerous insurgents.

“This is an urgent priority, in the face of the looming food crisis that we face if our farmers do not go to the farms. The rains are here, but farmers in various communities are unable to go to their farms; that is when they are lucky not to have fled their remote villages under pressure and attacks from the criminals. This cannot be allowed to continue.”

CAN’s concerns

Similarly, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in the 19 Northern states and the Federal Capital Territory (Northern CAN),  has noted that without mincing words, the current state of the nation has plunged the vast majority of the people into hunger, poverty, frustration and despondency.

 This was contained in a statement signed by its the public relations officer (PRO), Rev. Jechonia Albert, to mark this year’s Democracy Day.

According to the statement, due to the prevailing economic and security challenges facing Nigerians, celebrating June 12 as a Democracy Day makes no meaning to the Nigerian populace; hence not worthy of celebration.

The statement read in part, “June 12, declared as Democracy Day by the current administration, was marked with mixed feelings across the country. Amid increasing insecurity, bad economy and undemocratic tendencies among the leaders, is there anything really worth celebrating? Certainly none!

“The security situation in the country today has worsened with bandits, kidnappers and Boko Haram insurgents unleashing mayhem on Nigerians, killing innocent people and sacking communities.

“Thousands of Nigerians, especially the in rural communities, have been rendered homeless by bandits. On a daily basis across the country, communities are being raided and people are being killed or abducted by rampaging bandits and other criminal elements.

“The security situation has crippled the economy as travelling on the highways across the country has become a nightmare to Nigerians. The rains are here, but farmers cannot go to the farms for fear of being killed or abducted by bandits.”

“The implication of this is a looming food crisis and unless steps are taken to provide a secured environment for farmers to return to the farms, we may be in for more trouble with a hungry and frustrated population.

FAO, ActionAid’s alarms

In the same vein, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has raised the alarm over the worsening state of food security in the country. It, therefore, stressed the need for urgent measures to protect the most vulnerable, keep the national agricultural supply chains functional and efficient, and mitigate the food security impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.

FAO country representative Fred Kafero, who spoke at the 44th meeting of the National Council on Agriculture and Rural Development (NCARD), said the theme of the meeting, ‘Nigeria’s Agriculture and Food Security in the Face of Covid-19, Floods and Insecurity,’ was a call to action, to cushion threats to the livelihoods of a large section of the population.

According to him, the March-April 2021 Cadre Harmonisé (CH) food security analysis conducted in 16 states and the FCT projected that a total of 12.83 million people in the affected states would be in crisis levels.

Also, the ActionAid country director Ene Obi raised concerns over the inability of women to go to farms for fear of being raped. She said being the major producers of food in the country, it is important for the government to fast-track its efforts at curtailing the rising insecurity.

 She decried low budgetary allocation to the agricultural sector despite the fact that Nigeria is a signatory to the Maputo Declaration on the allocation of a minimum of 10 per cent to the sector.

 Nigerians’ lamentations

Meanwhile, Nigerians who spoke with Blueprint Weekend have lamented the increase in prices of foodstuff. The high increase in the prices of food items has affected so many families as well as salary earners. Some of the civil servants who spoke with our reporter said they now find it difficult to cope with the skyrocketing increase in the prices of essential commodities.

A civil servant told this reporter in confidence that, “It is like I am not working at all. I work with the Ministry of Labour and receive salary, but at the end of the month, I pay debts because I borrow weekly from friends to buy groceries for my family. How much is a mudu of beans? How much was it three months ago? That is what we are saying; it keeps increasing.”

Also, Kabiru Abdullahi, a meat seller, blamed the increase in meat in the market on the rise of insecurity in some parts of the country, pointing out that a kilo of meat sold for 1, 500 three months ago is now 2, 500 to 3, 000 depending on the bargaining power of the customer.

“Anytime we go to the market, we come back with whatever we can afford. A cow that we used to buy for N300, 000 is now N600, 000, while that of 250,000 is now N500, 000 or even N450, 000.”

“The commodities are not scarce, but the problem is going to the market to get them due to the security situation in some parts of the country. We can’t go to states like Katsina and Sokoto where cows are cheap; we now source them Kano, Bauchi or Gombe state,” he said.

Isa Mohamed, a farmer from Anzare village in Kajuru local government area of Kaduna state whose village was sacked by bandits in February, described as “unfortunate”  the soaring  prices of foodstuff  and lamented that they have been unable to farm grains due to the activities of bandits.

A pepper trader, who identified herself as Bilkisu, said: “The cost of food is very expensive, especially pepper and tomatoes. Two years ago, a basket of tomatoes went for N4, 000, but now, it is N18, 000 or N17, 000. I can’t afford a basket because of the hike. The money we used to buy a basket of pepper and tomatoes is what we now use to buy the items in smaller quantities. Also, a quarter bag of pepper is now N6, 500. We bought one bag of Shombo for N13, 000 yesterday. Today, I could not afford the price, and so I had to buy in bits from other traders.

Military’s assurances

However, the Defence Headquarters said it had begun the bombardment of bandits’ hideouts in the North-west, North-central and some parts of the North-east. It stated that operational efforts of the Armed Forces of Nigeria (AFN) in various theatres of operations have led to the reduction in criminal activities across the country.

The director, Defence Media Operation (DMO), Brig.-Gen. Bernard Onyeuko, stated this  recently while briefing journalists on the operational activities of the AFN across the country between June 3 and 16, 2021.

He said, “Troop’s operational activities in Operation Hadarin Daji theatre of operation between June 3 and 16, 2021, were characterised with ambush operations, aggressive fighting patrols, air raids, sustained air intelligence surveillance reconnaissance patrols as well as cordon and search operations.

“These operations yielded attendant successes in the period under review. Troops, during an ambush operation on June 3, intercepted and neutralised some gunrunners who were in possession of assorted arms and ammunition between Naimaimai Village and Sabon Birni Town in Sabon Birni local government area of Sokoto state.

“Similarly, on June 4, 2021, troops, following credible intelligence report, conducted cordon and search operation along Gurbin Baure – Jibia Road in Katsina state. During the operation, troops intercepted and neutralised some armed bandits.”

President Buhari’s stern order

The senior special assistant on media and publicity, Malam Garba Shehu, had in an interview with the Hausa Service of the BBC in March, said President Muhammadu Buhari had ordered a crackdown on bandits terrorising farmers across the country.

Also, during his interview with Arise Television recently, the president said he had ordered security agents to shoot on sight bandits carrying AK-47 rifles.

 Food imports

The rise in agricultural imports has continued unabated due to insecurity despite many Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN’s) initiatives aimed at achieving food sufficiency.

A recent foreign trade report released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) indicated that Nigeria’s agricultural imports increased by 140 per cent in the first quarter of this year.

Nigeria imported agricultural items worth N630.18 billion in the period compared to N262.1 billion in first quarter of 2020.

This represents the highest quarterly agric import recorded by Nigeria since 2016. In the past two years, between the second quarter of 2020 and the first quarter of 2020, Nigeria has spent N3.1 trillion on agricultural imports.

Some of the programmes, as stated by the apex bank in its last MPC briefing, include N631.4 billion to 3.11 million small-holder farmers cultivating 3.8 million hectares of land, under the Anchor Borrowers’ program. Also, 29, 26 beneficiaries received N111.7 billion for the AGSMEIS, while 548,345 beneficiaries have received N253.4 billion under the Targeted Credit Facility.

These interventions notwithstanding, agric imports have continued to rise, triggered by multiple de-valuations of the naira; demand for higher input raw materials, and rising inflation. Much of Nigeria’s food consumption still relies significantly on the importation of food items to stimulate local production.

For example, wheat remains an imported production input costing Nigeria about N222 billion in the first quarter of 2021 alone. It was N252 billion in the 4th quarter of 2020, translating to an annualised cost of N1 trillion ($2 billion). The country’s food index has increased by 32.3 percent between September 2019 and April 2021 which is only a weighted aggregate of the market reality.

According to a market survey report which studies the prices of food items in major markets in Lagos state, a bag of pepper surged by as much as 85.7 per cent in May 2021, while beans increased by 15.1 per cent in the same period. Other items that have witnessed significant increases recently include flour, egg, tomatoes, noodles, pasta, bread, beverages, just to state a few.

 For Suleiman Dikwa, the CEO of Green Sahara Farms, a major cause of the surge in agric imports is the inability of the country to produce sufficiently for local consumption