By Marie-Therese Nanlong
Jos – Nigeria has been plagued by decades-long violent conflicts which threaten national cohesion. Conflicts in politics, religion, ethnicity, and culture have exacerbated leading to the loss of lives, property, and means of livelihood.
Farming and mining communities have not been spared as emerging issues of criminality, kidnappings, and cultism threaten food production, food security, and sustainable income.
In 2020, Nigeria ranked 147 out of 163 countries on the Global Peace Index released by the Institute for Economics Peace which noted that the country continues to “face challenges with safety, security, and ongoing conflict.”
In 2019, the same body ranked the country as the third most terrorized country and added, “Violence by the two main factions of Boko Haram has taken a large toll on the civilian population, particularly in the North-East, where continued attacks have internally displaced more than two million people and caused a further 240,000 Nigerian refugees to flee to neighbouring countries.”
A farmer, Musa Mohammad of the Gwoza community in the North East said, “Violent conflicts have encouraged hunger; farmers are displaced, their assets destroyed and prices of foodstuffs escalate. This cycle continues because violent conflict causes hunger and hunger causes violent conflict.”
Ezra Matawal from Plateau, North Central region added, “Insecurity made me leave my farm in Bokkos to Abuja in 2020 but nothing was rewarding there so when the situation improved, I returned in 2022 to resume farming. But there is still a security challenge that limits my access to farmlands. What we cultivate is being stolen from the farm, that is why we are calling for more security efforts to tackle insecurity so that we can cultivate the land like we used to do.”
The North-Central region known as the food basket of the nation is devastated by recurring violent conflicts, displacement of people and destruction of farmlands have increased the burden of food shortage.
A 2022 report by the country’s Centre for Democracy and Development, CDD said that within 10 years (2011 to 2021), at least 60,000 people were killed in 18 Northern states due to insecurity.
CDD’s Director, Idayat Hassan said the report which also “measured conflict-related casualties in the North Central states of Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Kogi, Kwara, Nasarawa, Niger and, Plateau revealed that around 11, 000 people were killed in the period under review, while about 35, 000 people were killed in North East states of Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Taraba and Yobe.”
The Director added, “The growing insecurity and violence in the country were also fueled by shifting livelihoods, circulation of small arms and light weapons, corruption and inadequate access to justice, geographic and regional dynamics as well as ideological grievances.”
A security expert, General Jon Temlong (rtd) said the country can only have food security when all forms of hostilities threatening human lives are minimized because “There cannot be food security without national security.”
He noted, “The 1996 World Food Summit, defined food security as “when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.”
“To achieve food security, you need to cultivate food in large quantities and that is not done in one’s backyard, you need to go to the farm and some farms are located far from home. So, if there is no physical security, you won’t go to the farm. When farmers are attacked on the farm, they will not produce food that will give us access to the right quantity and quality.
“If you don’t have the wherewithal to purchase food, human security is then threatened. Government must make people’s food secure but that cannot be done only by importation but by active internal food production.
“Nutrition needs both animal and plant input but when hunters are killed in the forests by bandits, farmers killed in the farms, fishing expeditions suspended and animals rustled, leading to a high cost of animal protein, the country cannot be food secured. There is a nexus between insecurity and food production. Stability ensures steady access to nourishments.”
He added, “Boko Haram insurgency crippled fishing at Baga (North East), and the market closed but the stability has ensured bean production in Gombe (North East). Communities must be secured before you can achieve food security.”
However, citizens have queried the federal government’s commitments to curbing hostilities and improving security looking at the low budgetary provisions for agriculture and security. The 2023 budget has less than 2% allocation to agriculture as against the 10% recommendation by the AU’s CAADP framework while the Defence and Security sectors get 13.4%.
The Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Programme (CAADP) signed in 2014 at Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, by African Heads of State advocated the allocation of at least 10% of member-countries annual budget to agriculture to enable the continent to achieve food self-sufficiency but Nigeria, like most countries on the continent, has never met that goal.
Stakeholders in the agriculture sector criticized the minimal allocation of N228.4bn which represents 1.11% of the total budget to agriculture saying research institutions should be well-funded to develop varieties of crops and livestock using innovative technologies so farmers could produce more food.
Ephraim Usen, a farmer said, “The federal government has repeatedly assured of diversifying the economy from oil to agriculture knowing that it is a gold mine that can create jobs and ensure food security, allocating such a beggarly amount leaves much to be desired.”
Gloria Adamu added, “The money is not going to the critical stakeholders in the sector like the farmers, the transporters etc. nor will it be spent on innovation and infrastructure in the sector but civil servants who have no farms would spend it on seminars and all. We are not yet ready to scale up agriculture, if the sector is not made attractive, how can we attract the youths who can bring innovation?”
Apart from the Nigerian government taking actions to curb hostilities, efforts at silencing the guns at the African continental level are being intensified using the AU Agenda 2063, Aspiration 4 – peaceful and secure Africa – a functional mechanism for peaceful prevention and resolution of conflicts at all levels using a dialogue-centered approach.
The AU and Nigeria seek to enthrone a culture of tolerance, peaceful co-existence, and unity among citizens using measures like peace education and sensitization so that there can be a food-secure and prosperous Africa.
H.E. Amb. Bankole Adeoye, the AU Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security, PAPS at a recent AU Symposium on the nexus between Human Rights, Food Security, and Resilience in Africa insisted “The AU’s ultimate goal is for all African people to live in a peaceful and secured continent in line with our aspirations set in Agenda 2063- the Africa We Want.”
The symposium whose objectives included increased awareness of the relationship among nutrition, food security and human rights as well as the roles of a human rights-based approach to food security in Africa, pointed out that in line with the AU’s mandate on peace, food security could prevent violent conflicts in the continent.
At the inaugural lessons learned forum on AU Peace Support Operations and the African Standby Force kicks off in Abuja, Nigeria, recently, H.E Adeoye disclosed that the African Union has adopted a new strategy to curb violent extremism, terrorism and unconstitutional change of government on the continent as Africa cannot afford to continue relying on donors to solve all its challenges, hence the need to adopt an African method that best suits the situation.
His words, “The AU have demonstrated its capacity to maintain peace and security on the continent and have made clear that Africa is the first responder to its conflict situations…”
Actions that curb hostilities, and improve food security:
Although Nigeria’s security challenges are far from being resolved so that food security can be achieved, President Muhammadu Buhari continues to give hope the trend would be reversed.
During separate meetings at the 36th AU Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, President Buhari canvassed the strengthening of early warning systems to rein in conflicts in Africa.
At the High-Level side event on “Early Warning Within the Framework of the African Union Peace and Security Council and the Committee of Intelligence and Security Services in Africa (CISSA),” President Buhari noted that, “timely information sharing is vital to successful early warning and response processes.”
He argued that “When member states are denied credible early warning signals of impending crisis, they miss opportunities to address conflict situations before they escalate,” and stated, “Our continent has contended with various issues of insecurity, including terrorism, violent extremism, unconstitutional changes of government, among others. These issues have been discussed severally at various High-Level meetings, particularly at the May 2022 Extraordinary Session of the Assembly held in Malabo indicating the importance attached to this worrisome trend…”
While meeting with the Director-General of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), Antonio Vitorino, at the said Summit, he pledged Nigeria’s “continued support to international organizations working in the north-east region of the country, who are providing humanitarian assistance to citizens impacted by long years of insurgency.”
The President urged the international community not to neglect those living on the fringes of Lake Chad, “who have lost their means of livelihood because of the impact of climate change and the monumental shrinking of Lake Chad from its original state.”
To check insecurity around the food production environment, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and its Interior counterpart in 2016 established the Agro-Rangers, a specialized unit in the Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps, NSCDC to provide security and protection to agro-allied investments, farmlands, farmers and other investments in the agricultural sector in the country. While the initiative is hampered by inadequate personnel, it is believed that if repositioned, there could be improved security in farm settlements across the country.
Technology to the rescue:
Similarly, President Buhari who had launched the National Policy on 5G for Nigeria’s Digital Economy directed all the security institutions in the country to immediately leverage Fifth Generation (5G) technology to enhance security saying the technology, when deployed, can address challenges in the economy, security and the nation’s wellbeing.
On the other benefits of 5G technologies, the President noted “It can support virtually every sector of the economy, including enhanced connectivity, improved healthcare, support for education while fostering smart cities, and boosting agriculture, among other advantages. It will also support security institutions with real-time communication. This can play a key role in boosting our efforts towards enhancing security across the nation. It will enable our security institutions to effectively deploy robotics, autonomous vehicles, and augmented and virtual reality to address any security challenges that we face.”
The country’s Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Ali Pantami also revealed how his Ministry is collaborating with security agencies in the country using the National Identification Number, NIN to tackle insecurity which undermines economic development.
Pantami noted, “If the economy is not secured, the economy will not prosper. We came up with this policy to ensure every person who lives in Nigeria, either as a citizen or legal resident, has his or her identity would be known…
“If somebody is kidnapped, we don’t have any legal power to go and access the database. What you should do is report to security operatives, Police, DSS, or any other. They will immediately formalize that to NCC, operators, or the Ministry that they need a particular bio-data… That letter will give the institution the power to have access to the database. Our work is only to provide a platform for them where they can get the information they need so that they can make their work much easier.”
Success stories from States:
A worthy example in Plateau:
The Plateau State government established a Peace-Building Agency to present a platform for early warning signals to be received, and dialogues facilitated among conflicting parties to ensure peaceful coexistence in communities. The Agency engages members of the communities to foster mutual cohesion amongst them and facilitate the building of mutually beneficial environments where both groups can co-exist peacefully.
The Director-General of the Agency, Joseph Lengmang was excited when at Shianlang Community of Shendam, the farmers and herders constructed a local borehole where their animals can have free access to water.
Lengmang reiterated, “This development has greatly reduced the strain on the Shianlang community which was occasioned by the competition for this resource for domestic and animal consumption. This is one of the several impacts that the Community Peace Architecture Forum, the monthly platform supported by GIZ-PEACECORE is making in communities to promote peace and peaceful coexistence between farmers and herders in Plateau State.
“Similarly, the recent development of a Mini Pocket Guide for both farmers and herders by PPBA in active collaboration with the various farmer and herder groups in the State under the CPAF platform is one major milestone that is guiding them in building this mutually beneficial economic environment that has the potential of not just transforming the conflict landscape of the State but; one that would also boost the economic fortunes of the farmers and herders, and the State in general.”
Ogun, Oyo States collaborate:
As part of joint efforts to fight insecurity at the borderlines and on interstate highways, Governors of Ogun and Oyo states, Dapo Abiodun and Seyi Makinde respectively reached an agreement to create a Joint Border Security Task Force in addition to the deployment of Close Circuit Television (CCTV), Drones as well as other security measures meant to safeguard the borderlines between the two states and interstate highways.
Governor Abiodun stated that the two States share about 336 kilometres of borderlines, covering six local government areas in the Ogun state while Governor Makinde said that the security partnership is important considering the many security breaches along the Lagos-Ibadan expressway.
The duo expressed optimism that the entire South-West region would have peace and economic development as the Task Force would focus on and proactively address security matters along the boundary communities and interstate roads.
The initiative seeks “the deployment of CCTV on the interstate highways, setting up of outposts along the border communities for the use of the Joint Border Security Task Force, harmonization and mainstreaming of voluntary Police and informal security outfits and timeous and diligent prosecution of criminals to signify the resolve of the Governments of both states to clamp down on criminality.”
Solutions that can help:
In the North East, General Temlong advocated “the use of kinetic and non-kinetic approaches to curbing hostilities, active fighters should be disarmed, rehabilitated and empowered. Factors that brought insecurity must be adequately addressed.”
In the North Central, he stated, “Land and water resources have fueled insecurity, the population is growing, the way poultry was domesticated to meet daily needs, ranching should be encouraged for peaceful co-existence between the herders and farmers. Security should be addressed holistically, security should move away from state-centric to human-centric; there should be health security, quality education and access to shelter, and a high cost of living should be checked…”
CDD suggested that “The kinetic approaches favoured by the federal government may remain a mirage. Peacebuilding interventions are urgently needed in most if not all geopolitical zones to improve community cohesion in conflict-affected areas.”
Citizen Ikenna Uwakwe added there should be the sincerity of purpose on the part of governments and security agents. The task force comprising Army, Navy, Airforce, Police, para-military and civil institutions which had been adequately deployed to restore law and order and build citizens’ confidence to return to the farms should be effectively funded to play their roles.
Bilkisu Umar concluded that “Individuals linked with extremism who have renounced the ideology should be deradicalized and reintegrated into the society and empowered with skills and start-up packs to be gainfully employed while those languishing at the IDP camps be rehabilitated and empowered. Trauma counselling should be a top priority to ensure survivors are supported to live better lives.”
This article was developed with support from the African Union through the African Union Agenda 2063 Pitch Zone Awards, a partnership with the African Women in Media.