It is a great irony that when some so-called Northern leaders decided to take action against what they perceived as injustice meted against some Northerners in Southern Nigeria, they decided on the tomato war. It is an indication of how complex the situation is becoming in our great country and the perplexing reaction of the powers-that-be.
The push has come to shove and it is clear that those who declared the tomato war last week are the least likely to afford it. Besides, we know the problems, what we don’t know yet are the solutions to the problems that we are inflicting on ourselves.
It is interesting that the Miyetti Allah organization has not joined the fray of this tepid tomato war. Last week, it was reported that some trailer lorries were turned back on the Jebba bridge that would take them to Kwara State from Niger State. It was supposed to be the opening salvo of a total ban on agricultural produce from the North from reaching the hungry mouth of Southern consumers. In the real sense, the farmers of the North, especially those producing tomatoes, pepper, onions, carrot, watermelon and other produce have their market in the South, especially in the burgeoning megalopolis of Lagos, Ibadan and Port-Harcourt. For generations, these products from the North have proved to be cheaper, if not better, than those produced in the South.
During the First Republic, agriculture was a purely regional matter. However, since the Federal Government became the lord of agriculture, it has poured billions of naira into cultivation. Most of the money has gone to help farmers in the North who seem to have discovered the magic of securing Federal assistance. Since President Muhammadu Buhari came to power, he has doled out billions of naira to what is called Anchor Borrower Scheme across the country. Through this scheme, farmers in the North have mostly benefitted. It is interesting that this scheme seems not to have many recipients in the South.
I have spoken to people who are into serious farming enterprises in Ekiti State and they seem unable to secure these grants and loans. Note that the government of Ekiti State and the Federal Government are both controlled by the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC. Last year, I am also close to those who have participated in training to enable them get access to these loans, yet the stories continue to belong like the Tales from the Arabian Nights. Our governors need to take a direct interest to secure these loan to genuine farmers so that we can collectively banish poverty and wants from our shores. One of the ways to go about it is to regularly publish the list of beneficiary’s state by state so that farmers would be encouraged that the situation may be difficult, but not hopeless.
The irony is that the current crisis showed that the farmers and traders are victims and they all need to join hands to protest criminalities of the herders, especially those of the Fulani stock. It is interesting that it is the farmers’ products, not the cattle, that would be stopped from crossing to the South. What they need to stop are the cattle. That is the beast of contention, not the tomatoes.
When the crisis started about 20 years, it was because the herders wanted to assert their right to roam wherever they please. They want to show the farmers they are the Lord of whatever they behold. They have no respect for the farmers’ labour nor do they respect any boundary. They would ravage any farm and destroy a year diligent industry. The farmers in Zamfara, in Ogun, in Oyo, Taraba, Benue, Edo, Anambra and Katsina, in their different locations, try to address the situation. In some incidence, there was violence. When hundreds were killed in Benue, the Emperor in Abuja wrung his hands and beseeched the farmers to be tolerant. Soon the herders left herding and moved into the more lucrative vocations of kidnapping and murder.
In the last two weeks, they have virtually kidnapped Niger State. In which another country would more than 500 school children are kidnapped and everything would still appear normal? When our children were kidnapped in Chibok during the regime of President Goodluck Jonathan, it was a novel, if tragic, occurrence. No one has ever heard so many young people been seized by criminals in one day. The whole world rallied in our support. Some of the Chibok girls are not back till today. Yet the criminals who perpetrated this evil are still on the surface of God’s earth. Nigeria!
The Kagara episode provided Nigeria with the opportunity to show that the game has changed. The Federal Government could have come in full strength, move in 30,000 troops and create a condone-Sanitaire round the swathe of the affected areas in Niger and neigbouring states. Helicopter gunships should have been in the sky while drones probe the forest. Within 24 hours, these criminals would have been identified, isolated and smoked out. Instead, we ultimately deployed a bearded Islamic cleric, who actually think that these criminals have some justifications for their crime against society.
With this kind of experience, how can any citizen in Niger State really believe that the government in Abuja is still there for him? When an American was taken hostage by some hoodlums, the United State government deployed special forces all the way to Katsina State and rescued him. Here we are, Abuja could not secure the release of any of the Niger State captive. Niger State is the home of two Nigerian Former Chiefs of State, Generals Ibrahim Babangida and Abdulsalami Abubakar. It prided itself as the Power-State. In the face of all these, Governor Bello would have felt so powerless.
Those who are deploying the tomatoes war were only expressing their frustration about a government that is unable to protect its citizens. The tomatoes challenge shown that Nigeria has really grown from the era of the 1960s when every region was virtually self-sufficient. If the truth be told, since then the Northern part of Nigeria has developed its agriculture tremendously. The South-West especially has neglected the same. As of today, less than seven percent of land in Ekiti State is under cultivation. Yet this was the area famous as the power-house of cocoa farming in the old Western Region. Ekiti was the grower of the best cocoa in the world market. Today Ekiti cocoa farmers have no spot in any market. Instead, some of the farmers are facing regular battles with the operative of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA, over the cultivation of Indian hemp. Ekiti, Ondo and Edo States are the most troublesome area for the cultivation of cannabis. There are now a few farmers growing yam in Ekiti State. Thank God, Ekiti still remains the home of the best-pounded yam in the world.
The truth is that the game has changed and it has changed forever. The idea that open grazing of cattle can be tolerated is no longer sellable. Thank God for the initiative of Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State who first introduced the idea to ban open-grazing in this dispensation. We have seen that it is the idea of open grazing that led to herdsmen carrying arms to protect themselves from cattle-rustlers, and then to kidnapping, to open conflicts with farmers and then to the tomatoes option.
Nigerians are becoming increasingly impatient with the inability of the Federal Government to protect life and property. It is time the Federal Government and the National Assembly think of fundamental changes in the structure of the federation so that substantial power, especially to protect life and property, would be domiciled with the state government. The current system is not working. Too many Nigerians have already paid the price. No one knows whose child would be kidnapped or worse next week. We don’t know how long the system would keep Sheik Gumi and members of his tribe busy. We now have more people in Internally Displaced Persons, IDP, camps in Nigeria than we had during the Civil War. There is a rat-race for everyone to practice the act of self-defence. But it is a rat-race no one can win. Let us try something else like the restructuring of our federal system. We cannot be repeating the same thing and expect a different result. Chinua Achebe, the immortal novelist, advised us: “if the rat cannot run fast enough, let him give way for the tortoise.”
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