Food blockade and its aftermath

FOOD and cattle dealers in the North recently blocked food supply to the South for four days. The blockade was ostensibly a reaction to the alleged attacks on traders from the North plying their trade in the South. Food items destined for the southern markets were intercepted by some northern youths enforcing the blockade and they reportedly diverted them to neighbouring countries. While the ill-advised insistence of the leaders of Food and Cattle Dealers Association on obstructing supply to the South lasted, some elements converged on the popular North and South-West border town, Jebba, to enforce the blockade.  The sheer number of food-laden trucks blocked from completing their journey to the South and the obvious lack of perfect coordination of the ‘cordon’ meant that the blockade was not born out of any consensus but was rather a creation of some ethnic/regional politicians who were out to make a political statement, and perhaps extract political capital at the expense of the unity and harmonious relationship between the two major sections of the country. And as expected, the sudden blockade triggered hyper inflation and tension. However, on a brighter side, the incident became a clarion call on the South to strive to produce what it eats.

But why should any group of people take the law into their own hands?  Why should unscrupulous persons and leaders be allowed to latch onto a misunderstanding to exacerbate the fissures in the country’s fault lines?  And where was the decision taken to block the movement of food to the South?  Trading involves buyers and sellers; one party wants to buy because another party wants to sell. It generally involves exchange of values and it is not a case of one party to the transaction doing the other a favour.  Perhaps it is now clear to all that bringing foodstuff from the North to the South is not really about saving the South from starvation and hunger; it is first and foremost a commercial endeavour.  Thus, the four-day blockade of movement of food to the South might have occasioned temporary alteration in the feeding habits of the people,  perhaps in an unpleasant way, but the northern suppliers of food items surely have their own costs of the obstruction to free flow to contend with. The truth is that everyone benefits when the system is primed and permitted to run seamlessly: the opposite is also true.  While the officials of government, security agencies and others did the right thing by trying to prevail on those behind the blockade to allow sanity to reign, they did not need to have begged  them for taking illegal action and for disrupting the system.

The action shows that there is nobody in charge; at the very least, it is an index of poor leadership.  The food blockade could be construed within the context of a subtle declaration of war on the South and the potential for reciprocity does exist. The movement of resources and values between the North and the South is by no means unidirectional and it is unequivocal that the balance of advantage in that regard is indisputably in favour of the South.  The damage which the North-South food blockade has done is the heightening of the extant mutual suspicion and mistrust between the North and the South. The tendency is for some ethnic/regional activists to begin to develop strategies around the potency and deployment of sectional blackmail and reciprocity to obfuscate the reality of a grave national challenge rather than tackle it. The veritable issue is the pervasive insecurity in the land which has defied the government’s largely suboptimal strategy.

The situation is not helped by the thinking in some quarters in the South that the Food and Cattle Dealers Association simply latched onto the isolated incident in Shasha market, Ibadan, to orchestrate the food blockade to blackmail the South into accepting and tolerating the felonious and anti-social behaviours of the criminal Fulani herdsmen in the South.  Indeed, some people believe that the message the food blockade was meant to convey to southerners is that food items would flow to them uninterruptedly as long as they accept that it is normal for their farmlands to be destroyed by cattle and that farmers who dare to challenge the plunderers could be killed or maimed, kidnapped and extorted with impunity. It is most unlikely that anyone will see the achievement of this ignoble objective as a piece of cake. There would be some measure of resistance which may involve self-help. The real issue is insecurity which originates mainly from the North  and the truth is that its deleterious effects are being felt more in the North.

Boko Haram terrorists, bandits and killer herdsmen and kidnappers are perpetrating their heinous activities in different parts of the country but much more so in the North. In other words, the challenge is not about the conspiracy of the North against the South, but that of the undesirable elements against all. However, since the government is reluctant to declare all of these violent non-state actors as terrorists and treat them officially as such, their felonious activities have continued to fester in a frightening manner.The challenges of insecurity, absence of genuine unity and mutual mistrust by different sections of the country  can only be exacerbated by knee-jack measures like food blockade from one region to the another; the enduring solution lies in taking a hard look at, and correcting, the fundamental wrong of perceived injustices being fuelled by the lopsided and greatly flawed federalism that the country practises.

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