It is not uncommon to connect the breakdown of law and order to political machinations and ethnic insensitive narratives. Often, majority of the citizenry believe that crime of this volume is a plug and play process, deployed by the negative elements in the society to destabilise peace and propel dangerous political manoeuvres. Hardly do the root cause of the long-term vulnerabilities of the main victims who unfortunately in many instances are also the main actors in this narrative make it to the mainstream discourse. This is not surprising; the root causes are often a product of long-term neglect which is gradually bearing the fruit of current agonies. This discussion looks to examine the chain reaction of a poor extension practices in Nigeria, essentially the northern part of the country and how their underperformance has led to the vulnerability of many households, leading to crime and violence and banditry.
Statistics reveal that that approximately58.75% of farmers (i.e. crop farmers) in Nigeria are from the Northern part and the middle belt area of the country. At full percentage, about 85% of these farmers are mainly producing for consumption, barely having anything to sell except the meagre percentage they use for exchange to maintain their food sovereignty.Personal surveys in several locations in Northern Nigeria reveal that many of these households suffer food security issues annually. In some instances, households would have nothing to eat until they go to work as labourers to other families who have favourable locations to farm. This picture does not begin to paint the hardship that rural farmers in remote locations suffer. Given an average birth rate of 78births per 1000 women and an average family size of10 human beings per household, these hardships come with great human cost, even without any form of violence and banditry.
The agricultural extension service unit of the Ministry of Agriculture is an agency of the state that is responsible for the day-to-day midwifing process of ensuring the farmers have the right information, support and strategy to farm sustainably, guidance on external support such as credit facilities among other value adding capacity programmes. The extension service providers are also expected to collaborate with other state and non-state actors such as research agencies and human capital development institutes and family welfare actors such as PPFN and others to ensure a healthy family and lifestyle. The Federal Ministry of Agriculture has a total of 11,000 extension workers in Northern Nigeria. This works out to be 500 farmers per extension worker. To be productive, an extension worker should only serve an average of 25 farmers at any point in time. This will give room for research, training and capacity building and hands-on support with individual farmers. Due to the overwhelming number of farmers’ households to each extension worker, arguably, about 80% of the farmers do not get to see an extension worker through a 12-calendar month, which constitutes two farming season, early rain and late rain.
Given the gap in service delivery, significant number of farmers in remote locations run a challenged family with significantly stretched value and control. Personal studies reveal that the household’s heads only have minimal control due to limited resources. Often, due to the hardship, the female children are given out as child bride, the sons travel out of the community in search of other livelihoods. In some cases, just as the female children becomes a stranger on the bed of an older spouse, the young male children become streets urchins under the control of a mullah, who is only interested in using them for alms collection. These automatically convert these children to street children. Because survival comes first, proliferation of small arms from the Sahelian nations, severe economic situation and lack of safety nets to serve as economic shock absorbers, these children are a ready-made child soldiers waiting for willing manipulator.
For the record, this discussion does not conclude that all children born in remote locations in Northern Nigeria would go through this experience. The import here is to trace the genealogy of the ready-made child soldiers that are recruited into different forms of banditry and terrorist activities in Northern Nigeria. They were not born violent, neither have they brought up to raise hell. They are a vulnerable set of lads whose youthful exuberance has been explored by the negative elements in the society, who capitalise on their lack of safety nets. In retrospect, provided there was an enabling environment with adequate support structures for the farmers, it is evidential that these children would have grown up with their parents;this would have kept them useful within their immediate society, unavailable for the destructive elements. This trend is an ongoing situation, and many will still go this way the next dry season, when the families hit the peak of their vulnerabilities due to hunger and lack of support for the family.
Interestingly, it is easier, cheaper, and more sustainable to combat poverty and vulnerability than to procure arms. The government needs to invest significantly in agriculture extension service offices using modern technologies such as blockchain system and other cashless solutionsin input and supply, to support the farmers, plug the vulnerability gap and invest significantly in agricultural value chain systems. These activities are far cheaper than buying guns, bullets and mortar in the future. And it all starts from a very functional, creative and responsive extension service, a robust, cashless and transparent safety net solution and a participatory food security and land use planning country-wide would also help proactively manage the surge of banditry, which is gradually consuming the global north of Nigeria gradually.
Dr Allibay is Global Social Performance Lead
Translantic Development Limited