By Dele Sobowale
“Over 100 confirmed dead…”
The news report brought back memories of my years in Haske Rice Mills, along Kalambina Road, Sokoto, next to Sokoto Cement then. We purchased paddy rice from all over Northern Nigeria, including Borno State.
Most of the farmers, like others at the Bakolori Dam area in Zamfara and Yelwa Yauri wetlands in Kebbi State were subsistence farmers. They grew enough rice to feed their families and the surplus is sold to buy what they need. They have no other source of income. A situation such as the one in Borno State, and increasingly other Northern states, creates the back drop for a great national food tragedy.
The farmers are caught in a vicious grip. They starve if they don’t farm; they risk death or being kidnapped if they do. It is the devil’s alternative.
Unfortunately, tragic as the situation will be for farmers, the consequences of the massacre of rice farmers in Borno will touch everybody living in Nigeria today. The poorest Nigerians, far away in Borno State have been given a death sentence literally. In fact, this attack on farmers might come to serve as a metaphor for how farming in Nigeria in the years 2015 to 2020 was devastated by five sets of hoodlums – Boko Haram/ISWAP, herdsmen, kidnappers, bandits and cattle rustlers.
Of the five criminal groups now ravaging Nigeria’s agriculture, only two were inherited from previous governments – Boko Haram and to some extent kidnappers. But, even the kidnappers never touched poor rural farmers. They made kidnapping an urban terror.
Herdsmen were docile co-inhabitants of Nigerian rural communities. Although there were skirmishes on account of cattle invasion of farms, they were quickly resolved. Quite often, the herdsmen repaid the farmers – with meat if the damage was extensive.
That symbiotic relationship gave way to herdsmen hostility and impunity once one of their Life Patrons came to power. Unfortunately for all concerned, the Federal Government’s failure to check the activities of the rampaging herdsmen emboldened them to ravage more farms all over Nigeria.
Starting with herdsmen, blaming the victims became the first official policy of the government and remained so until the most recent attack on farmers in Borno State.
Arguing about the number of innocent lives lost is the second. The two were on display after BH killed over 40 in Borno.
“Was there any clearance by the military which is in control of these areas? Did anybody ask to resume activity? I have been told by the military leaders that they have not been so advised…” —Garba Shehu, Special Assistant on Media and Publicity to the President in a chat with BBC.
Apart from demonstrating shocking insensitivity, gross ignorance in a failed bid to blame the victims was on display here. The farmers went to harvest crops they planted months before and nurtured to harvest. Rice farming is labour-intensive. The farmer has to be in attendance virtually all the time.
Where were the military leaders to warn them to stay out during their months of labour? Just to underscore the point, one of the survivors of the genocide, Zana Boguma, pointed out to reporters that “Those farmers did not need any clearance from the army. Soldiers themselves know that the settlement there is a farming community and their farms are not far from their houses.” (News report, December 2, 2020). Another made my point by asking: “…did we seek permission from the army before farming? Why is the Presidency giving excuses for her negligence and failure?”
When the Presidency is not busy trying to blame the, it is disputing the numbers killed.
“67 were killed – Senate; we killed 78 – Shekau.” Vanguard, Dec, 2, 2020.
The government’s spokespersons have been at their worst peddling fake news concerning the number of people sacrificed to FG inadequacies. Buhari’s spokesmen talk of “43 or thereabouts.” Nigerians have been told by others that the figure was certainly higher, from 67 by Senators, to 78 by BH. Nigerians should not have had any problem believing government’s “43 or thereabouts” if we have a government we can trust. Who believes them – other than President Buhari?
FACTS BEHIND THE NUMBER
“Stewards are not hired for their intelligence, but for their loyalty.” – Vanguard Book of Quotations, VBQ, P. 233.
Buhari’s selection of top officers of government is the first since 1960 which proves that intelligence does not matter. It is both sad and not surprising that the spokespersons could not think deeply about the consequences of what happened in Borno State. They seem contented to play their puerile game of numbers.
So, let me tackle them on their own terms in the vain hope that they will see how utterly irresponsible their contributions to this matter had been.
Even if it is true that only “43 or thereabouts” farmers were slaughtered, the Boko Haram has effectively put an end to harvesting in most of Borno State for a long time to come. Farming has now become a suicide mission. Millions of tonnes of food will rot away in farms un-harvested while just as many millions of Nigerians starve as food scarcity is made more acute nationwide.
Perhaps unknown to Buhari’s aides, Borno State alone produces more food and a greater variety of them than Lagos, Ogun, Osun and Ekiti or if you like, Edo, Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers, and Akwa Ibom combined. That is the food basket which the mass murder of “43 or thereabouts” farmers is getting set to shut down.
A more proactive government would have been thinking about how to salvage as much as possible of the Borno State harvests instead of splitting hairs on whether army was consulted or not.
Having dealt a death blow to Borno, it is only a short march to Yobe and Adamawa for Boko Haram to move in and re-enact the same havoc. Very soon, three major food producing states could be substantially taken out of action. Bad as that scenario is, it does not even reveal the depth of our problems with regard to food supply this year.
Three, hitherto, major food baskets – Kaduna, Katsina and Zamfara – are experiencing something unprecedented this year in Nigeria’s history. In each state thousands of farms which produced food are now fallow; nobody planted anything; nobody will harvest anything in 2020.
Bandits, herdsmen, cattle rustlers and kidnappers have done their worst. Many of the owners of those farms, now dead, will never farm again, and nobody is eager to replace them.
Criminals are often copy cats. All that is required now is for a group of bandits to slaughter “43 or thereabouts” farmers in any of the other large food producing states – Niger, Benue, Plateau, Sokoto — any time soon and this year’s harvest might be over nationwide sooner than we expect.
Any hope for salvation? Not in the short term – at least one year, that is. And the reason is simple. Katsina State, for example, is co-governed by the elected governor and bandits. So bad is the situation in Buhari’s state that Senator Baba Kaita made this announcement: “I totally believe the President is doing his own best, but then doing your best is not enough when we cannot see the result….”
This has got to be the worst cut of all – a sitting President heckled by a Senator from the same party and from the same state!!!