By Ehichioya Ezomon
rational minds can’t blame critics for labelling Nigeria a “failing state,” a “failed state” or a “banana Republic.” an things get worse than they’re in Nigeria today? It’s doubtful! That’s why
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 of the past, as the various ethnic groups go their separate ways.
While concerned Nigerians chew the implications of the bandits’ terrorism 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 irritants, without firing a shot, aim at mass murder through deprivation and starvation.
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.
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 of the country.
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 dealers’ action have’d maximum effect in shortages and skyrocket-prices of foodstuffs and cattle in the South.
It isn’t that the government wasn’t aware of the dealers’ intended protest, as the authorities were given a long notice, first a three-week ultimatum issued by the dealers on November 7, 2020. That’s a heads-on of three months and three weeks before the “strike.”
The dealers also claimed they’d written “to all the security agencies, including the Army, as well as the Presidency” before the strike commenced, the General Secretary of the dealers, Ahmed Alaramma, told newsmen at the Labour House in Abuja.
As the New Telegraph editorial of Thursday, March 4, 2021, on “Banditry and Buhari’s pledge of containment” noted, the bane of our governments is that, “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 swung into action, and halted the dealers’ threat to embark on strike, to protest alleged maltreatment of their members; the scarcity of foodstuffs and cattle, and the price hikes thereof in the South, particularly in Lagos State, would’ve been avoided, or nipped quickly as the protest began.
Absent meaningful negotiations, the authorities assumed a “wait-and-see,” only for the Department of State Services (DSS) to quiz the dealers’ president, Comrade Muhamad Tahir, days into the strike.
Polity watchers wonder if government’s late intervention wasn’t a ploy to gauge the impact of and reaction to the dealers’ action against Southern Nigeria! No other explanation suffices, considering that the authorities were given sufficient notice about the strike.
Let’s look at some of the dealers’ alleged grouses and their demands on government:
* Multiple taxation of members * Illegal road blocks on federal 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 the South-West, South-East or South-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, as compensation to members for the loss of lives and property destroyed during those crises.
The dealers’ general secretary 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 issued on November 7, 2020, 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 quickly investigated, and the findings and government’s decision communicated to the dealers before they blocked the supply routes to the western and eastern axes.
But notwithstanding their notice to the government and security agencies, the dealers went too far by blocking the supply chain, to intimidate and blackmail the South, and the entire country.
Surely, the dealers took undue advantage of the security situation in the country – the height of which’s the consecutive mass kidnapping of school children in Katsina, Niger and Zamfara states – 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, if not worse. So, to keen observers, the dealers’ strike was a decoy to pressurise the South to abandon its opposition to the killer herdsmen roaming Southern communities and forests, and using same as a haven for kidnapping, raping, maiming and killing.
The dealers’ needn’t add inflammable substance to the raging fire of insecurity nationwide. But by going on strike, they’ve sent a clear message to the South: Being under our control, we can impose a foodstuffs and cattle embargo, to bring you to your knees.
Yet, the dealers be reminded: No one has monopoly of everything. It’s the dealers’ prerogative today to attempt to strangulate the South with the foodstuffs and cattle blockade. Tomorrow could be for the South to retaliate, and the North won’t find it funny!
Anyway, the dealers’ action is a blessing in disguise, and 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.
The scenario maybe different the next time if Southern leaders walk their talk, aftermath of the one-week blockade. By the end of 2021, the South could depend less on the North for supplies.
And subsequently, the region could become self-sufficient in the production of foodstuffs and cattle for local consumption. So, the dealers should be careful what they wish for the South!
* Mr. Ezomon, Journalist and Media Consultant, writes from Lagos, Nigeria.