• Wednesday, May 29, 2024
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BusinessDay

Food crisis worsens in Plateau, Benue as insecurity escalates

Armed men Attacks Officials of Nigerian Correctional Service in Plateau

In Nigeria, the unsettling grip of insecurity has extended its menacing reach into the heartlands of food production, particularly in the states of Plateau and Benue.

With these regions historically serving as breadbaskets, their current plight reflects a stark reality. Attacks and violence are not only claiming lives but also threatening the nation’s food security.

Plateau and Benue, once teeming with agricultural abundance, now bear the scars of conflict, as attacks on farmers and communities escalate. The repercussions are dire, with food production plummeting and livelihoods being shattered.

Agrarian communities have been displaced in Benue – Farmers’ group

Rampaging killers have attacked Ukum, Logo, Agatu, Gwer West, Kwande, Makurdi, Guma, Otukpo and Gwer East in Benue state. They also attack Bokkos, Mongo, Wase and Barkin Ladi in Plateau State.

It is a complex web of factors, but insecurity emerges as a dominant thread, contributing up to 40 percent of the reasons behind Nigeria’s food crisis. The question looms, why hasn’t the government mounted a concerted effort to eradicate this scourge?

The repercussions of this negligence are felt acutely in Plateau and Benue, where farmers toil under the shadow of fear, unable to tend their fields without the looming threat of violence. In such an environment, productivity inevitably wanes, exacerbating an already precarious situation.

But beyond the immediate economic toll, the humanitarian cost is staggering. Families are displaced, livelihoods are lost, and communities are fractured, leaving a trail of devastation in its wake.

The urgency of the situation cannot be overstated. The government must prioritise the restoration of security in these embattled regions, deploying resources, personnel, and strategies to combat the root causes of violence.

This entails not only reactive measures but also proactive initiatives aimed at addressing the underlying grievances fuelling conflict. Dialogue, reconciliation, and community engagement are indispensable tools in forging lasting peace.

Farmers say the situation will worsen the country’s food crisis and derail its plan to broaden the economy through agriculture.

John Wuyep, Plateau State chairman of All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), disclosed that the ongoing crisis in the region has persisted for nearly two decades.

Speaking from Bokkos, a flashpoint on the plateau, Wuyep emphasised the urgent need for collaboration between local authorities and farmers to address the escalating insecurity.

He outlined plans to begin with Bokkos and Mongo, targeting these areas for increased security measures before extending efforts to other local governments. Wuyep highlighted a strategic partnership with Agro Rangers and the army’s Operation Safe Haven, ensuring that farmers are accompanied to and from their farms for safer production.

In response to the nocturnal attacks often suffered by farmers, Wuyep detailed innovative security measures, including the introduction of a security device that emits sounds resembling gunfire to deter attackers. Additionally, plans to deploy drones to further deter assailants are underway. While these initiatives are spearheaded by AFAN, Wuyep stressed the importance of government support; expressing the optimism that successful implementation will alleviate the plight of local farmers and mitigate their suffering.

“The crisis has lasted almost two decades now. As we speak, I am currently in Bokkos Local Government Area, which is a flash point on the plateau. And we are synergising with farmers there. “We want to start with Bokkos and Mongo now which is the target area before going into other local governments. The synergy is between the Agro rangers, army (Operation Safe Haven), where they always accompany the farmers to the farms and back. That is for production alone.

“These attacks usually take place at night, so we are bringing a security device that sounds like a gone so that when you make the sound, it will sound like a gone and the attackers will be scared. We are also going to bring drones to also scare them away. All these are in conjunction with the security. Note that we are doing this at the level of AFAN Plateau State chapter. But these steps we are taking, I believe if the government sees and key in, especially when it becomes successful, it will alleviate so many sufferings of the local farmers,” Wuyep told BusinessDay in a telephone interview.

Read also: Plateau’s Irish potato supply chain suffers on Bokkos attack

A member of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Benue State chapter, who did not want his name in print because he was not authorised to speak, told BusinessDay that several agrarian communities have been displaced in Benue, with farming activities under threat in a state that used to produce over 20 percent of the food consumed in the country.

“This is the time farmers are planting in the state, and many have stayed away from their farmlands because of the numerous killings. This will create a shortfall in food production in the state, and prices will surge further.

“We have over 2,000 farmers from Benue in IDPs now owing to the killings. The situation is pathetic, and the Federal Government is not doing enough about it,” the AFAN member said.

Mutfwang takes campaign against killings to the international community

Caleb Mutfwang, governor of Plateau State, has said that the situation in Nigeria was a result of a failure of governance, particularly at the national level.

The governor said this recently at a forum organised by the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) in the US.

The event, themed ‘Advancing Stability in Northern Nigeria,’ was attended by ten governors from the northern part of the country.

The conversation at the forum was centred on Nigeria’s prospects for peace, what Nigerian citizens and leaders can do to manage tensions or violence, the most important issues for the state governors, and how stability in northern Nigeria can contribute to progress and prosperity for the country.

Speaking at the event, Mutfwang said that the experience of Nigeria in the last eight years of the previous administration was a situation where the central government either abdicated responsibilities or, in concert with perpetrators of criminal acts.

He argued that this gave the criminals the confidence to build capacity, which has become a monster today.

“What is happening in Nigeria is a failure of governance, particularly at the national level. I will say the experience, particularly in the last eight years of the previous administration, was a situation where we saw the central government either abdicating responsibilities or, in some cases, in concert with the perpetrators of these criminal acts.

“It gave such leeway to these criminals to build capacity, that today it has become a great monster—a big elephant in the room,” Mutfwang said.

The governor recalled the deadly attack in Plateau state on Christmas Eve last year, saying that it was beyond farmers-herders clash.

Mutfwang also said that the demands of the masses are the same.

“They want access to quality education, health, good roads, and other social amenities, but all these can’t be achieved if there’s no security,” he noted.

The Plateau State governor’s lamentation mirrored the concern of other governors whose states are also facing similar situation.

Tinubu calls for counter-terrorism to avert attacks

In a high-level Counter-Terrorism Meeting convened by Nigeria’s President, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, urgent calls for collaborative action reverberated throughout the gathering.

Emphasizing the gravity of the ongoing crisis, Tinubu underscored the imperative of prioritising counter-terrorism efforts above all else. Acknowledging the profound impact of terrorism on societies, Tinubu articulated a vision of unity and resolve in the face of adversity, urging leaders to transcend rhetoric and deliver tangible results.

Highlighting the need for a comprehensive approach, the president outlined strategies to address both the root causes and the operational mechanisms of terrorism. Emphasising the importance of regional cooperation and international support, he called for the establishment of a fully operational Regional Counter-Terrorism Centre and the strengthening of existing counter-terrorism structures. Asserting Nigeria’s unwavering commitment to combating terrorism, Tinubu underscored the pivotal role of the National Counter Terrorism Centre and the dedication of the nation’s security forces in safeguarding the region’s security.

“We must strengthen existing counter-terrorism structures such as the Regional Intelligence Fusion Unit (RIFU) Abuja, the African Centre for the Study and Research on Terrorism (ACSRT) in Algiers and the Committee of Intelligence and Security Services of Africa (CISSA) in Addis Ababa.

“A Regional Standby Force that includes tackling terrorism as part of its mandate must not be abandoned. I am mindful of the funding, legal and logistical complexities that face the proper establishment of such a force. However, with a prudent and clearly defined mandate that accords with the international law and respects national sovereignty such a force can serve as a rapid deployment mechanism, capable of swiftly responding to major threats and bolstering the security of our region. Such a force can stand as a strong deterrent to large scale and protracted terrorist operations and the capture, occupation or disruption of strategic land and resources. We must continue to make careful yet meaningful progress toward this goal.

“Establishing an all-inclusive African Union Ministerial Committee on Counter Terrorism is also a high priority as envisaged in the Declaration of the 16th Extraordinary Summit of the African Union Assembly two years ago in May 2022. This would ensure that a forum of high-level government officials meets regularly to assess our counter-terrorism efforts and provide guidance on how to improve.

“For its part, Nigeria remains firmly committed to fighting terrorism and violent extremism. They are our most urgent national security threat. Our counter-terrorism capabilities have been enhanced through enactment of the Terrorism Prevention and Prohibition Act, establishing the National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC). We have and will continue to take bold steps forward in safeguarding our nation and the wider region,” the President declared

Investment in infrastructure, education, and economic opportunities can serve as bulwarks against the tide of extremism and despair, offering pathways to prosperity and stability.

In parallel, law enforcement agencies must be empowered and held accountable, ensuring that perpetrators are swiftly brought to justice and that impunity is not tolerated.

Collaboration between the federal and state governments, as well as international partners, is paramount in orchestrating a comprehensive response to the crisis. Only through concerted, coordinated action can the tide be turned.

But the task ahead is daunting, requiring political will, resources, and perseverance. It’s a challenge that demands collective resolve and unwavering commitment to the welfare of all Nigerians.