….. Agriculture: Is Nigeria’s Core North in Distress?
From time immemorial, agriculture was Nigeria’s economic mainstay, however, overtime, agriculture has been relegated to the background for obvious reasons, it’s on record that Nigeria’s endowment with vast natural resources of arable land from the stretch of savanna grassland, the dense swamp and rainforest, the untapped and unhannessed abundant quantities of solid minerals almost all over the country have either been misused or put to abandonment over the years.
Before the days of the oil boom, agriculture occupied a strategic and prime position in Nigeria’s economic abacus, the country was rated tops in terms of the production and exports of cash crops such as cocoa, rubber, palm kernel, cotton, groundnuts and others. The discovery of oil and its attendant cash cow status helped in pushing agriculture to the background.
The northern Nigeria was also strategically endowed with vast cultivable stretch of land from Borno across Kano, Bauchi, Adamawa, Jigawa, Katsina, Kaduna, Zamfara, Sokoto Kebbi, Niger, Gombe and Kebbi states. However, lamentably, years after the oil boom in the 70s, the fortunes of agriculture in the north have taken a nosedive as the region that was then the home of abundance is now the home of want.
Northern Nigeria has in the last two decades or thereabouts suffered monumental distress in almost all facets of human endeavour, with the agricultural sector taking a larger chunk of the multidimensional problems. Traditionally, there was and still there’s the perennial skirmishes or even violent clashes between farmers and herders over the tango between the two sides relating to alleged trespass into farmlands by the herders with their cattle ,and the violation of the demarcation of cattle routes by farmers. Such straying into farmlands by cattle had on several occasions sparked violent attacks by farmers on the often fulani herders and sometimes killing their cattle, which often ignited reprisal attacks by the fulani herdsmen on the communities of farmers. The clashes amongst farmers and herders had often led to unquantifiable damages involving humans and or properties; such perennial clashes had caused destruction of settlements belonging to both farmers and herders, which in essence brought about displacement, desolation and dislocation of fertile farmlands. The substance is,such clashes had significantly led to desertion of farmlands, abandonment of farm settlements which negatively affected the prospects of agriculture where such unpleasant events took place.
Suddenly, during the days of late ‘Yar-adu’a’s tenure,the menace of boko haram emerged in the northeast. The emergence of boko haram marked a horrible turning point in the history of agriculture in the northeast and in the whole of the northern region. The boko haram renegades sprang from the false sermons and preachings of misguided Islamists. They unleashed hell and terror on innocent people under the false cloak of instituting shariah legal system, they went about killing people, killing security personnel and even Islamic preachers who opposed their new religion. They plundered and sacked communities, schools and colleges and abducted hordes of defenceless people including students. Hapless farmers were killed right on the soil of their farmlands just markets were raided and razed to the ground.
The emergence of boko haram caused serious dislocation to agriculture in the subregion as farmers were barred from accessing and cultivating their farmlands and forced to flee from their homes, which brought about the preponderance of Internally Displaced Persons in the affected States.
While the menace of boko haram continued in the Borno-Yobe-Gombe axis, a ragtag collection of some boko haram elements extended their foray to some states in the northwest…in the same mould,bandits held sway in the northwest with their modus operandi of cattle rustling. The bandits engaged in unfettered cattle rustling from farm settlements and even from homesteads in vulnerable communities, they will then market and sell their loots. However, as time went on, the cattle markets became saturated with the abundance of rustled cattle which attracted the attention of local vigilance groups and the security formations which gave rise to the shutting down of many markets in such communities, and even the disconnection of mobile phones service as a strategy of checkmating the bandits.
From cattle rustling ,the bandits changed their menace to abduction of people to demand for huge amounts of money, as according to them it’s easier and more profitable to receive money as ransom for kidnapped people than to rustle cattle and take the pains of selling them in the markets. The bandits expanded their hold on vulnerable communities by exacting taxes and levies so much so that many communities have since been methodically excised from the hold of constituted authorities. As I write this, many villages and communities are desolate and deserted because the bandits have plundered and sacked such communities with the people scattered as IDPs. Overall, farming activities are at their lowest ebb with child-beggers roaming the streets of towns and cities while their traumatised parents are languishing in IDP camps, and some parents have been killed by bandits just as many children have been orphaned as a fallout of the menace of banditry and kidnapping.
In the scheme of things ,the extreme north is now sandwiched between the menace of banditry and kidnapping and the general economic malaise which has placed the people in a hopeless quandary. The core north is also in the firm grips of climate crisis which has contributed in rubbishing prospects of the otherwise good rains and bountiful harvest during the annual rainy season . Even though climate change is global phenomenon ,its negative effects are more telling with their devastating effects in developing countries particularly those in the tropical regions. As expected ,the core north is severely being dealt with by the ravages of climate change.
Drought has badly affected the fortunes of agriculture so much so that many able-bodied men have now migrated to the western, eastern and southern states in search of the proverbial greener pastures. In situation where the rains arrive late and cease too early, it’s only normal that harvests will be too dismal. As I write this, Guinea corn and some varieties of millet that usually mature late have already withered as the rains ceased too early than expected; even the other crops that were harvested had very poor yields. It’s therefore little wonder that as at now prices of foodstuffs have gone through the roof forcing many households to remain poorer and hungry.
People who engage in rearing domestic animals are equally affected as the cost of available feeds is exorbitant and almost unaffordable which has forced many people to sell off such domestic animals to buy foodstuffs for their own survival. This implies that climate change is making people poorer, hungrier and more uncertain about what tomorrow holds for them.
This is December, the supposed height of harmattan season but surprisingly there’s no cold as every day and night it’s just heat…an indication that climate change has stripped harmattan of its powers, even our local wells are drying even before the onset of the dry season. The local well I got drilled in my neighbourhood has dried up, but by this time last year it was almost full to the brim with water.
While developed countries are up and doing about preferring solutions to the effects of climate change , the developing countries are yet to even fully grasp the sad reality of the phenomenon. In Nigeria for instance, I’m not in the know of any kinetic policy aimed at technically and holistically addressing the devastating effects of climate crisis.
The hard fact is, the core north is daily descending into the incalculable abyss of distress…poor rains,no fertilisers, no herbicides, no festicides, no mechanisation of farming,…while banditry has spiked the volume of compulsive displacement and migration of people, upsurge in the tally of out-of-school children and general unemployment compounded by unexampled high cost of living. It would take a robust , holistic and purposeful approach by governments at both the centre and states to effectively manage this consuming drift.
Binji contributes from the Administration and General Services Department,Cabinet Office, Sokoto.