By Ehichioya Ezomon —— MEMBERS of the Amalgamated Union of Foodstuffs and Cattle Dealers of Nigeria, in the past week, blockaded the supply chain, specifically from the North to Southern Nigeria.
Can things get worse than they’re in Nigeria today? It’s doubtful! That’s why rational minds can’t blame critics for labelling Nigeria a “failing state,” a “failed state” or a “banana Republic.”
Where else will non-state actors dictate the pace and tenor of things, and the government appears nonchalant, helpless or abetting activities that are purely private and of self-interest?
In the past few years, herdsmen have graduated from cattle-rearing to banditry and to kidnapping, terrorising Nigeria, and leaving a trail of death and destruction from the North to South.
The bandits’ activities got to a crescendo lately, that talks about a second “civil war” are no longer a hush-hush, but have generated a debate as to how to avoid a bloodbath, as various ethnic groups go their separate ways.
While concerned Nigerians chew the implications of the banditry ‘ on the nation, another group of non-state actors has emerged, assuming a monopoly of power, to flex its muscles.
But unlike the bandits that have spread their tentacles to all parts of the country, and strike at random at soft targets with a limited number of casualties; the latest terror, without firing a shot, aim at mass murder through deprivation and starvation.
What’s the South’s offence? The foodstuffs and cattle dealers, dominated by Northern members, wanted the public to believe that they’re striking to protest intimidation, humiliation, carnage and destruction of their goods in the South.
But their action, carefully planned and executed, coincided with the South’s repudiation and challenge of herdsmen, who’ve sacked and occupied communities and forest reserves in the South.
What better way to show their solidarity with the herdsmen than for the dealers to cut the foodstuffs and cattle supply chain that’d affect mainly the South that depends on supplies from the North!
And what did our government do? As usual, the authorities were caught flat-footed, and struggled to react after the blockade had maximum impact in shortages and prohibitive prices of foodstuffs and cattle in the South.
It isn’t that the government wasn’t aware of the planned protest, as the authorities were given a long notice, first a three-week ultimatum issued by the dealers on November 7, 2020. That’s three months and three weeks before the “strike.”
The General Secretary of the dealers, Ahmed Alaramma, told newsmen at the Labour House in Abuja that they’d written “to all the security agencies, including the Army, as well as the Presidency” before the strike commenced.
The New Telegraph editorial of Thursday, March 4, 2021, “Banditry and Buhari’s pledge of containment” noted that the bane of our governments is, “they hardly take proactive actions to prevent untoward happenings. They are also cynically lethargic to nip in the bud such occurrences. And they only react when it is too little too late, as things have gotten out of hand.”
Had the authorities acted and halted the threat to embark on strike, the scarcity of foodstuffs and cattle, and the spiral price hikes in the South, would’ve been avoided.
Days into the strike, the Department of State Services (DSS) quizzed the dealers’ president, Muhamad Tahir.
Cynics wonder if government’s late intervention wasn’t a ploy to gauge the impact of a food blockade against the South.
Among the grouses and demands of the dealers are:
•Multiple taxation of members
• Illegal road blocks on highways, and demand of illegitimate tax
• Extortion by security agencies, and hoodlums on major roads in the South.
• Payment of about N250,000 on extortion before a truckload of cows from Adamawa gets to its destination in any part of the South.
• Death of 151 members in the Shasha crisis in Ibadan, Oyo State, and destruction of properties, including 100 trucks. • Members killed and their properties destroyed during the #EndSARS protests.
• Demand of N4.75 billion compensation to members for loss of lives and property during those crises.
Alaramma claimed that “despite our several complaints, and engagements with the Presidency, security agencies and other relevant ministries regulating our operation, as contained in our three weeks ultimatum, our members have continued to suffer intimidation, frustration, humiliation, destruction of their goods and carnage.”
These are genuine grievances, and the demand flowing therefrom, which ought to be investigated, and the findings communicated to the dealers before the blockade.
Surely, the dealers took undue advantage of the security situation in the country to embark on a wartime strategy to squeeze the South to surrender.
We’re not at war, though the situation in Nigeria merits that of a war zone. So, to keen observers, the strike was a decoy to pressurise the South to abandon its opposition to the killer herdsmen roaming Southern communities and forests, in their nefarious kidnapping, raping, maiming and killing.
The dealers’ needn’t add inflammable substance to the raging fire of insecurity nationwide. And they should be reminded: No one has monopoly of everything. They have today used their prerogative to attempt to starve the South with a foodstuffs blockade. The South could retaliate tomorrow.
On the other side, the blockade is a wake-up call to the South to revitalise agriculture, especially as the foodstuffs blockade comes at the start of the planting season in the South. By the end of 2021, the South could depend less on the North for supply of foodstuffs.
Mr. Ezomon, journalist and Media Consultant, writes from Lagos, Nigeria.