• Sunday, June 16, 2024
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Benue’s economy takes serious ‘knockout’ as insecurity persists


…Investor confidence dims,

…agric activities stalled

…poverty on the rise

Insecurity has cast a long shadow over Benue State, leaving an indelible mark on its economic landscape. The pervasive climate of fear and instability is manifest in various facets of the state’s economy, creating ripples that extend far beyond immediate concerns.

In recent years, Benue State has grappled with heightened insecurity, primarily stemming from conflict between herders and farmers. The insecurity has in intricate ways negatively impacted the economic fabric of the state.

Read also: Food crisis worsens in Plateau, Benue as insecurity escalates

It is reported that widespread insecurity in the country has led to the disruption of agricultural activities which is the largest employer of labour and the largest economic sector in the country. Analysts have reason to argue that the Food Basket (Benue State) is less full, fueled largely by attacks by armed herdsmen.

The attacks, which herdsmen often claim responsibility, have affected many local governments of the state including, Guma, Makurdi the state capital, Gwer West, Agatu, Buruku, Logo, Kastina- Ala, Ukum, Kwande among other Local Government Areas (LGAs).

Emmanuel Nyata is a public affairs analyst based in Makurdi, the Benue State capital. He told BusinessDay that Benue State, once a source of pride, now bears the brunt of insecurity. He argues that farmers face threats, leading to decreased productivity, disrupted supply chains, and a vicious cycle affecting food security and livelihoods.

It must be noted that since the return to democracy in 1999, Benue State and indeed Nigeria, have witnessed high level insecurity that has direct impact on both the economy and democracy, drastically impeding development. The Bayelsa Massacre of 1999, Benue Military mayhem of 2001 as well as the Plateau killings of 2024 among others remain fresh on the minds of many.

Prior to the 2001 military massacre of defenceless civilians in Katsina-Ala, Ukum and Logo LGAs, otherwise known as Sankera, the intermittent interstate crisis between Taraba and Benue States has led to the killings of thousands of people as well as destruction of businesses and farms worth billions of Naira.

Border crisis has given birth to different groups of militias in the guise of safe defence during and after the crisis but have now transformed to become terrorists, sources say.

Some of these gangs, it is understood, have become uncontrollable by their communities and security operatives. Coupled with activities of herdsmen, the last few years have negatively affected not just economic but social and cultural ways of life of the people.

It was gathered that the slain militia leader, Terwase Akwaza a.k.a Ghana, picked arms allegedly to help fight off “enemies of his people.” He was from Shitile, Katsina-Ala, one of Benue border LGAs with Taraba State. Ghana himself would admit, during his first amnesty that he took arms because of the border crisis between Benue and Taraba. He would soon grow into full time “criminal activities.” The police accused him of masterminding several criminal activities.

In 2017, the Police declared Ghana wanted for merciless killing of several innocent persons, wanton destruction of property worth millions of naira, kidnapping, armed robbery, culpable homicide, mischief by fire, criminal conspiracy, among other offences.

The then Force Public Relations Officer, Jimoh Moshood, was reported by Channels Television as telling journalists that “the said Terwase Akwasa, (a.k.a Ghana), is wanted for merciless killing of several innocent persons, 17 in Zaki Biam and about 50 in other different locations in Benue State; and for wanton destruction of property worth millions of Naira by arson at Zaki Biam in Benue on the 20th of March, 2017; and for other capital offences such as kidnapping, armed robbery, culpable homicide, mischief by fire, criminal conspiracy and others.”

Major markets in the state such as Tor Donga, Abaji, Abako, Sai and Kyado took a nosedive as a result of activities of criminal elements. Bem Ingyogh, a farmer from Ukum LGA says insecurity has taken a toll on Sankera, affecting both farming and other commercial activities. He adds that many people have been forced to relocate from “the troubled areas” to places like Makurdi, Adikpo, Gboko, Wannune among others “for fear of the unknown.”

Last year, then Governor Ortom was reported in the news as saying that there are well over one million IDPs living in IDPs camps and IDPs host communities. And because the major occupation in the state is agriculture, many have lost jobs with significant drop in food production.

The amnesty programme, initiated by the administration of former Governor Ortom did not particularly help the situation, as Ghana and some of his loyalists would soon return to the trenches. Ghana was eventually killed by Nigerian special forces troops in September, 2020. The killing of Ghana appears to have aggravated insecurity, particularly, in Sankera.

Notable personalities, including elder brother of former Governor Gabriel Suswam, wife of the late Honourable Justice Tine Tur, Justice of the Court of Appeal, first Ukum Local Government Council (LGC), Elder Washima Erukaa, and several other persons have been sent to the great beyond by these gun-toting young people that are fighting for which cause is not exactly known.

Although relative peace is returning to the state, analysts say much more still needs to be done. Of course, it is the promise of the incumbent Governor, Hyacinth Alia, to ensure democratic stability, economic growth and the people’s welfare.

As if to test the governor’s resolve, his Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Hon. Matthew Abu, was abducted when he visited his Zaki Biam home in September last year. Although he was later released, the caretaker Chairman, Ukum LGC, was earlier this year abducted while on his way to a funeral the Governor was due to attend.

Currently, the caretaker Chairman of Gboko Local Government Hon. Agber Tavershima Abraham is in the DSS net for an alleged attempt to assassinate the Honourable Speaker of Benue State House of Assembly, Hon. Aondona Hyacinth Dajoh.

On 19th January, 2024, armed men suspected to be Fulani herdsmen launched two different attacks in the state, killing six persons in Gwer West LGA. Pever Acham, told BusinessDay that the herdsmen numbering about ten in the early hours attacked Tse Gamber in Sengev Council Ward, claiming the lives of six (6) persons with one Iorhon Dam taken away by the armed men.

Less than one week later, precisely, on 23rd January, 2024, residents of Naka, the Gwer – West LGA called on the federal and state government to help fix the deplorable condition of the Makurdi – Naka – Ankpa Road, which has become axis for kidnappings and other violent crimes. The Makurdi – Naka axis of the road has become a death trap on which many have lost their lives, on account of kidnappings by armed men suspected to be herdsmen, while motorists and travellers who use the road have also become victims.

The narrative is nearly the same everywhere in the state as it is felt across the three senatorial districts of the state. In the words of Samu Terhemen, a Gboko-based businessman, the business landscape in Benue State has suffered as investor confidence wanes due to insecurity. This he explains, is contributing to spiraling unemployment rate, poverty and forced labour, including trafficking.

Benue’s natural beauty and cultural richness were once potential magnets for tourism. However, insecurity has deterred potential visitors, resulting in a decline in tourism revenue and the stifling of a sector that could have brought economic revitalisation, a staff of the Ministry of Information, Culture and Orientation who would not want his name in print confided lamented.

Also affected by this wave of insecurity is the education sector. Many schools especially in Guma and Makurdi LGAs have been reduced to rubbles while in some places, many are deserted, thereby increasing the number of out-of-school children. It is so bad that until recently, the education of the children in IDPs camps was not given a serious attention, raising concerns about the future of these children that are living in IDPs camps with their parents.

Dr. Tersoo Tile, is a teacher with NKST Secondary School Bristow, Gboko. He told our correspondent that insecurity in the state had negative consequences on access to education, students’ enrolment, workforce, presenting a bleak future for the children.

According to Dr. Tile, a weakened education system hinders human capital development thereby further complicating the economic outlook of a place, region or state.

Besides, insecurity has taken a toll on infrastructural development in Benue, with damaged roads and disrupted transport networks hindering the movement of goods and people. This contributes to higher costs for businesses and impedes overall economic efficiency.

It also has placed strain on social services, including primary healthcare and public safety, analysts say, adding that same places additional burden on the state’s resources, diverting funds meant for essential development projects to deal with security issues.

Above all, the displacement of communities due to insecurity has resulted in a disoriented workforce, with individuals losing their homes and livelihoods. Pundits say the economic consequences of this internal migration are far-reaching.

Analyzing the state’s responses to insecurity and the economic policies implemented by the present government of Governor Alia reveals the delicate balance between security measures and the need for sustainable economic growth.

Amidst the challenges, stories of community resilience and hope emerge. Local initiatives and grassroots efforts to rebuild shattered economic foundations showcase the determination of Benue’s people to overcome adversity.

Indeed, insecurity’s stranglehold on Benue State’s economy is complex and pervasive. This feature calls for a holistic approach, combining security measures with strategic economic policies to pave the way for a brighter, more resilient future.

The analysis showed that insecurity affects economic growth by driving-out investments, increasing unemployment rate and dwindling government revenue, amongst others factors that are inimical to economic growth.

Speaking with BusinessDay Sunday, a member of a farmers’ association, who spoke on condition of anonymity, urged the Federal Government to urgently find a lasting solution to the insecurity ravaging Benue State.

‘From all indications, the state government cannot solve the problem. The attack on farmers have continued despite efforts by the state government to end it. We are calling on President Bola Tinubu to find urgent solution to the unprovoked attacks on the farmers and their produce,” he said.

He also lamented the seeming inability of the security agencies to end the orgy of killings in Benue.

‘For over eight years now, Benue has turned to a killing field of herdsmen. They just come at will and leave blood and tears. Today, many families are homeless. Many people are languishing in IDP camps. They have no money and with a doubtful future. What did we do wrong? The security agencies have failed to protect the people. During the eight years of Governor Samuel Ortom, the state was a killing field, now it has continued. The President should do everything possible to end this madness. Everything has collapsed in the state. People live in fear, particularly in communities far away from the state capital. We cannot continue this way,” he further lamented.

Another farmer also said: “The insecurity in the land is getting out of hand, we want Mr. President to look into it as a matter of urgency. Farmers cannot access their farms to harvest their farm produce despite the fact that the produce are due for harvest.

“Bandits have harvested some of the farm products, they kidnap our members (farmers) while we also pay ransom for their freedom.

“Some of the hoodlums are now in control of the farms of some of our members, and we are in a very difficult situation now because we are not allowed to visit our farms again. Many of us have not been to the farms for weeks now because of the fear of being kidnapped.”