New Telegraph

As another group holds Nigeria hostage (2)

New revelations are coming from Northern Nigeria, on the heels of the disclosure by Kaduna- based Islamic cleric, Sheikh Ahmad Gumi, that the government and security agencies “know the bandits’ hideouts” in the forests across Nigeria.

 

In January and February 2021, Sheikh Gumi was in the news, acting as “unofficial go-between” for bandits that had kidnapped hundreds of people, and the governments of mostly North-West states.

 

Relating the negotiations, Sheikh Gumi threw several bombshells, including that, the Fulani herdsmen are fighting for existence, hence their kinsmen cross borders (into Nigeria) to defend them.

 

That Muslim soldiers, deployed to combat bandits, don’t shoot at the criminals; and that in revenge, the bandits should target non-Muslims (read Christians) among the security operatives.

 

And that the herdsmen are “militants” comparable with the Niger Delta militants, and the bandits should be treated as such and granted amnesty for peace to return to North-West and elsewhere.

 

This time, it’s Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State that has confirmed what polity watchers had hazarded prior to and during the one-week supply embargo on Southern Nigeria by the Amalgamated Union of Foodstuffs and Cattle Dealers of Nigeria.

 

Mr Bello disclosed a trio of “secrets” that underpinned the so-called strike by the dealers: One: That “one governor and someone close to the seat of power in Abuja” were opposed to his intervention in the agro-products blockade to Southern Nigeria. Two:

 

That following the stoppage of supplies to the South, Northern youths had mobilized to launch reprisal attacks should the South retaliate the embargo. And three: That the youths “were sponsored” by persons or groups the governor didn’t reveal their identities.

 

Bello, with the backing of the Presidency, had negotiated with the foodstuffs and cattle union, to call off the strike that induced shortages and price hikes in the South, especially in Lagos, which consumes about 50 per cent of products in the South-West.

 

The latest leak by Bello has affirmed the view that the strike by the dealers wasn’t to challenge alleged maltreatment of their members, but to express sympathy with bandits parading as herdsmen. In the first of this serial on Monday, March 8, 2021, I surmised that the dealers’ blockade of foodstuffs and cattle was in solidarity with herdsmen rather than to protest reported intimidation, humiliation, carnage and destruction of their goods in Southern Nigeria.

 

Though Bello didn’t disclose the “governor and someone close to the seat of power in Abuja” that queried his intervention in the standoff over foodstuffs and cattle supplies, it’s obvious that the dealers had supports within and outside the government.

 

And that’s why the Northern youths, as the governor revealed, were prepared to launch reprisal attacks if the Southchallenged thedealers’blockadeof thesupply chain.

 

Bello said he stepped in to end the North-South trade blockade “because of a looming catastrophe in the country,” as the National Assembly, the Governors’ Forum and other stakeholders failed to address the complaints of traders from the North and South. Atbest, Nigeriansmayguess”thegovernorandsomeone closetotheseatof powerinAbuja,” whoopposedBello’speace initiative, but ashesaid, the individuals “were uninformed.”

 

Indeed, they’re uniformed! Blinded by their parochial interest, and assumed monopoly of power, they didn’t contemplate the “unintended consequences” of the embargo on Southern Nigeria. The immediate consequence is losing the Southern market, and incurring of huge losses in perishable goods, and overall revenue in billions, as the strike lasted.

 

But the dealers’ bombastic spokesman, Awwal Aliyu, dismissed any losses attributable to the blockade. In the heat of the crisis, Mr Aliyu, who leads the Northern Consensus Movement, boasted in wellpublicized interviews that the dealers no longer reckoned with the market in the South. Aliyu said: “Our people have started exploiting new business opportunities.

 

 

Because they do not want to lose their perishable products, they have discovered a route that goes through Sokoto to Burkina Faso, to Chad, to Niger Republic and other parts of West Africa. A lot of lorries are exporting goods to those places. “So, we are losing nothing. In fact, it is more profitable for us to export to other countries than taking them to Southern Nigeria.

 

Our people make more money from otherWest Africancountriesthantaking theirgoods tothe South-East, South-West or South-South.” (So, the dealers regard these geopolitical zones as countries?)

 

When one door closes, another one opens. But have the dealers just discovered the existence of these foreign markets when they’ve long pushed their foodstuffs and cattle into Southern Nigeria? The issue of the blockade is a two-way traffic.

 

Had the dealerssustainedtheirstrike, anotherdoorwould’veopened for the South to import foodstuffs and cattle, even as the region strove to bridge the supply gap with local production.

 

The strike has renewed Southern interest in agriculture, especially for foodstuffs and cattle production, that’s been at a subsistence level, as the South depended on the North for the supplies. Nowthatthatchainof supplyhasbeenshakenorbrokenby thedealers, theSouthhasseenanopeningforseriousbusiness ratherthanthelipserviceitsleadershavepaidtoagriculture. For instance, the South-West, which views the zone as specifically targeted by the blockade, has kick-started moves towards ensuring improved food production in the six states of the zone.

 

Responding to the foodstuffs and cattle embargo, the Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN) commission, on March 2, 2021, facilitated an interactive session for commissioners and special advisers on agriculture in the zone. A communiqué of the parley, issued by the director general of the DAWN commission, Seye Oyeleye, was first reported by the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR).

 

The bulletin stated that the South-West states “are fully aware of their responsibilities in ensuring that their people have access to food in abundance, and will continue to provide the enabling environment for such to be available in abundance.”

 

The report stressed the need for the states to work together, to simplify access to land for investors in agriculture; put critical dams into active use, to move farming fromrain-dependenttowater-dependent; ensureincreased production of goods in which the region has comparative advantage; share ideas on how to attract more youths into agriculture; and appreciate the commitments by some states to take action on the resolution within three weeks.

 

Indications are that the South-East and South- South are also to ramp-up production in foodstuffs and cattle, to cut the dependence on Northern Nigeria that may regard the last impasse as a victory.

 

So, it’s about time Southern Nigeria stopped the shenanigans of the Northern-controlled agro-traders, to prevent their random use of the blockade trumpcard against the South in future.

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