Bandits and North-West farmers

THE latest outcry by farmers in the North-West geopolitical zone over an imminent food crisis in the county is no surprise. The farmers have only echoed the deep concerns being expressed by the majority of Nigerians over the frightening state of insecurity in the country. Security breaches in the North-West in the past few years have heightened the fear of aggravated food crisis, and national food insecurity appears inevitable unless something urgent and drastic is done to arrest the situation. The alarm by farmers is resonating most poignantly with the populace because of the absence of demonstrable capacity by the government to quell the threats.

To prove that their alarm was not a hoax, the farmers showed how, out of frustration and desperation to survive, they are being forced to bribe bandits before gaining access to their farmlands. In addition to perpetrating killings and committing arson, the criminals impose taxes on the hapless farmers who have invested hugely in crop cultivation and whose means of livelihood, not to talk of their contributions to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), is now under threat. More than 10,000 persons, mostly peasant farmers, have reportedly been displaced in Zamfara State, while the few that still summon the courage to retain their farms offer gratifications to bandits to gain access to them. According to reports, a similarly large number of farmers have abandoned their farms in six local government areas in Kebbi State. Hundreds of rice farmers in the state have abandoned their farms following the aggravated rates of banditry and kidnapping, with the likely decline of food production in the entire North-East by about 50 per cent.

In Kaduna State, less than 30 per cent of farmers still risk their lives by visiting their farmlands. They have become targets of hardened criminals. Their counterparts in Doguwa and Tudun Wada local government areas of Kano State, a contiguous state to Plateau State, are at the mercy of bandits and kidnappers using Falgore Forest as a hideout and driving most farmers out of business by cutting access to markets for harvested crops. In Katsina State, which has consistently witnessed carnage and arson by bandits in Funtua, Sabuwa, Dandume, Faskari, Bakori, Malumfashi, Danja, Kafur and Kankara local government areas that account for more than 60 per cent of rice production in the state, farmers are in severe distress. The growing threat to national food security has led to the Sokoto State governor, Aminu Tambuwal, expressing serious worries over the fact that many citizens of the state have relocated to Niger Republic. The governor has been appealing to them to return home and utilise the rainy season for crop cultivation.

Truth be told, the threat of an emergent food crisis is not peculiar to the North-West; it pervades the entire length and breadth of the country owing to the deteriorating security situation. However, why the current situation is most worrisome is that incontrovertible evidence showed that even when banditry was not so rampant, the country was confronted by food insecurity. Sadly, the trend can only get worse unless the government expeditiously rolls out pragmatic measures to address the roots of the problem. The siege by bandits has grave consequences for the over 200 million Nigerian population. The majority of adults are no longer economically empowered to  play their roles in nation building; inept leadership, coupled with the defective federal structure foisted on the country, has made them ineffective. Thousands of persons have either been laid off because the companies in which they work could no longer stay afloat, or their small and medium scale holdings were ruined by the hostile business environment. Worse still, banditry and kidnapping have compounded the crisis of unemployment. So, there is a vicious cycle indexed by national instability, worsening economy and mass poverty.

With bandits on the prowl across the food belts of the county, most Nigerian farmers are bound to remain poor. They will have no money to cater for themselves and their families: maintaining even a subsistent lifestyle is increasingly difficult. Of course, this has dire consequences for the Human Development Index (HDI) of Nigeria. The Federal Government must look for more creative and enduring solutions to the security crisis. It is not too late to review the current strategies that have failed the nation.