Almost a decade into the Boko Haram insurgency and the recent Fulani herdsmen – farmers’ clashes in the Middle Belt, it’s fast dawning on Nigeria that one of the effects of the crises would be a fall in food production.
The Governor of Benue – one of the most affected states, Samuel Ortom, said recently, that, with nearly 200,000 people displaced, by the Fulani herdsmen-Farmers’ clashes, the forecast, in the short-term, of about seven years, henceforward, it would be a misnomer to still refer to Benue as the ‘Food Basket of the Nation.’
This year’s harvest of agricultural products, especially yam, which is fast being promoted as a potential foreign exchange earner for the country, he said, would be slashed by as much as sixty-five per cent. He figured that a majority of the internally displaced persons (IDPs), in about five camps, at different locations in the state, were able-bodied men, who were mainly farmers – victims of undeclared war – who have for now, lost their ancestral homes and means of livelihood.
In essence, the economic effect of the Fulani herdsmen conflict, promises to be harsh on the purse of the Benue government, as it would on those of Plateau, Taraba and Adamawa, especially when it comes to post-crisis resettlement. Well before now, it was never foreseen that a peaceful state like Benue, would be a theatre of blood-letting; a development that some commentators have tagged: “a sluggish, but steady progress to a full-blown war.”
From Borno and Yobe states, in the North-East geo-political zone, where Boko Haram has done a lot of destruction to lives and property, to the whole of the Middle Belt, there’s already a pressing humanitarian crisis that has attracted the intervention of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, International Committee of the Red Cross, Lake Chad Basin Commission, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), African Union, the governments of the United States of America, United Kingdom, China and Japan, amongst others. The Trump Administration is on record to have said that Washington would assist Abuja in combating the threat to lives and property posed by Boko Haram through intelligence gathering, training of Military personnel and supply of surveillance aircraft.
If all that intervention was not in sympathy with Nigeria’s democracy – if, in truth, to give it a peaceful environment to grow and develop, so as to meet the expectations of tax-payers and voters – it is in recognition of the strategic position of Nigeria in African politics; that her long-awaited democratic and economic influence in the continent should not be allowed to wilt under vicious pressure from the criminal activities of a group of ill-advised armed elements opposed to Western education – as the case of Boko Haram; and the prelude to genocide by some faceless armed herdsmen, who have refused to face the reality of modern-day husbandry of keeping animals in organised and well-managed colonies, in place of grazing over a long distance, is the course of which private farms are criminally invaded and destroyed by their charge. And that is the cause of crisis in Benue. It was to curb that economic haemorrhage that the Ortom Administration passed a law against open grazing; banning herdsmen from roaming Benue with their cattle and destroying farms.
The Middle Belt and North East crises should not have happened, in the first place, said Sekoni Alade, an agro-economist, who breeds pigs and goats, in Ede, Osun state. “Perhaps, matters would not have been so bad for Benue state, where the government has organised two massive burials for the victims of Fulani herdsmen violence, if there had been a comprehensive enlightenment and information campaign about the law restricting cattle herders to colonies, so that they do not go into private farms to cause incalculable destruction to crops”
It was Alade’s position that, the Fulani herdsmen’s blood-letting in Benue was more than a failure of intelligence gathering. “It’s akin to treason, like the pollution of the Niger Delta by some of the international oil companies (IOCs) – like Shell and Eni. Benue State is economically strategic to Nigeria’s food security architecture, like the oil-producing Niger Delta.
“If Benue State and the rest of the Middle Belt are rendered ungovernable by Fulani herdsmen, who have failed to see their economic importance in a peaceful Benue, for instance, you kill agriculture. You give rise to food scarcity and a chain of other ugly effects. Render the Niger Delta region restless, you cause an incalculable damage to the production of crude oil – the oxygen of Nigeria’s economy,” Alade said.
Put briefly, the crises in Benue state and the North East geo-political zone are a drain on the Nigerian economy. The victims of Fulani herders’ violence, who are supposed to be contributing to the economy of the state, are now idle; a group of privileged liability, as it were, on the Ortom Administration. It’s estimated that in the eight months ending January 2018, the Benue State Government spent about seven billion in humanitarian intervention – rice, beans, yams, soaps, beds, detergents, cooking oil, stoves, bed sheets, blankets and tents and security – in aid of those in the IDP camps.
In a post-Ortom era, said Alade, that figure may rise to N12 billion. In one graphic economic aspect, the drain on the Benue State Government’s exchequer will remain the depletion of its farming population and the attendant loss of visible tax money that would have been generated.
The Chartered Institute of Taxation of Nigeria (CITN) calculated that the real effect of the Fulani herdsmen-induced crisis, in Benue, for instance, would be felt in the decrease in internally-generated revenue in the financial year 2018.
The North-East insurgency and Middle Belt blood letting by Fulani herdsmen, as former Governor of Cross River state, Donald Duke, has rightly observed, has lasted far longer than the Biafra war of 1969 – 1970.
Nigeria, he said, had lost more than what she did in the civil war to Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen-farmers’ conflict. At a conference organised by the National Movement for Positive Change (NMPC), in Lagos, Duke regretted that “some Nigerians have turned Boko Haram insurgency to a money-making venture to the detriment of the country’s peace and development. The Boko Haram crisis is also of economic complexion and it is getting deeper now, because the operatives of the terrorist outfit and their ‘external collaborators’ have realised that the best way to get money – drain the country’s treasury – is to capture a few girls, get $10 million to release them, and six months later, kidnap another set and make more money.”
The huge humanitarian crises issuing from the North-East geo-political zone and Middle Belt could be traced to corruption and conspiracy. Nearly $3 billion that was meant for procurement of arms to steel the country’s security was siphoned into the pockets of a few thieves in the Military and political class. The probe and trial of all those allegedly involved on the distinguished “Dasuki gate” is still on. That is part of the economic cost to the country.
And because the Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen would seem to have seen that the country’s security and intelligence gathering system could be a lot better, they seem augmented, as a result, to hit hard, almost at will, at their targets.
But, for Sade Taiwo, a Research Fellow at the Nigerian Institute of Social and Economic Research (NISER), Ibadan, the Buhari Administration should liaise with the government of the Middle Belt to strengthen the security in the farming communities, assist them in finding “off-takers, like industries, that would buy their products, so that they would remain active and relevant in the economic architecture of the state – and that of diversifying the economic base of the country beyond the fortunes of oil, through agriculture.”
Peace is an imperative in the Middle Belt, she said, and the armed herdsmen should be checked. After the nasty experience of Biafra, there is a compelling need for peace, in a post-recession period for the agricultural sector in the Middle Belt to thrive. The focus of that peace initiative should be Benue State.