Critical Conversations

Playing Politics With Food: The Agro-Traders Union and the South

For those who are frequent market-goers, especially in cities in Southern Nigeria, it is no news that the prices of foodstuffs have more than tripled. As Nigerians struggle to come to terms with these new harsh economic realities, the Amalgamated Union of Foodstuffs and Cattle Dealers of Nigeria decided to raise the tempo to a crescendo. The audacious move by Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria and the Amalgamated Union of Foodstuffs and Cattle Dealers of Nigeria to stop food supplies from the North was unprecedented.

The climax was when many trailers transporting cows, tomatoes, onions, pepper, grains, and other commodities were prevented from leaving a border town in Niger State to the Southern part of the country early this week.

The trucks were reportedly conveying agricultural goods owned by cattle merchants. They were stopped by traders’ Union members from entering Jebba town, a Kwara State border town with Niger State on their way to the South-West last week Thursday.

Abdullahi Aliu, national president of the Northern Consensus Movement, noted that, “As I speak to you, my people are already shipping their goods- onions, tomatoes and what have you to Niger, Cameroon, and other neighbouring countries through Illela border. Already, we have diversified our market. Our people have already found a way of not wasting their goods. They will not be wasted. They will be sold just like the way they were being moved to the Southwest, Southeast or Southsouth”.

Aliu averred that it was a strategic move, adding that after the EndSARS protest, the NCM, which is the umbrella body of all the groups, had “called the Amalgamated Union, the Cattle Dealers Association, and all other associations to a discussion table.”

It is mind-boggling that this is coming at a time when concerted efforts are being made both by the Federal Government, respective state governments, concerned citizens, and major stakeholders to broker peace in affected regions following ethnic tensions that came during the herdsmen saga.

According to the Northern groups, the move was born out of legitimate concern to protest the killings of its members: “The blow is too much for Northern Nigeria, both from bandits and those that were supposed to be our brothers”.

The other reason is that the group legitimately claims that billions of naira were lost by their members during the #EndSARS riots and afterward, so they are demanding compensation. It seems no state government or even the Federal Government has made any response to their plight.

While these are very strong legitimate concerns, other less contentious ways could have been deployed to drive home the agitations. Weaponising food security to wage war not just against any particular region can be mistaken as the highest form of divisiveness. This is why the national president of the Middle Belt Forum, Dr. Pogu Bitrus, stated, “we are irrevocably opposed to such an act which we believe is capable of creating a rift and widening the fragility of our corporate existence.

“For any union to rise up and block food items being transported to the South from the North is not only criminal but also intended to throw the entire nation into chaos.”

Not only were these unions insensitive to the fact that the country was still struggling to come out of that ethnic fiasco exacerbated by certain Nigerians and politicians who speak and stoke violence, they were equally insensitive to the present economic conditions of many Nigerians, alongside Northern suppliers who were equally languishing in the dome of these harsh economic realities.

Currently, farmers and traders in Kano are lamenting as farm produce, which can’t be sent to the South due to the ongoing strike by sellers of cows and foodstuff, are now being sold at the North at ridiculously low prices.

In a video that made rounds on the media space, the farmers and marketers at the Gun-Dutse onion market, Dawakin Kudu Local Government Area of Kano State, were seen lamenting the effect of the ongoing strike by the sellers of cows and foodstuff.

The move by Miyetti Allah and other related unions to cut the supply of food to the South appears too extreme and defeats all the measures and efforts currently in place to set the road again for a smooth One Nigeria.

It is quite soothing that the strike did not last up to a week before good judgment prevailed. The free flow of food supplies is expected to resume fully before the weekend.

This reflects the importance of self-restraint in a society where little things have the tendency to be misconstrued, politicized, or narrowed down to ethnicity and religion. This is because it will further strengthen the resolve of many enemies of Nigeria, who are patiently waiting to capitalise on such malleable instances.

Read Also: Tackling Inflation through Food Security

Anger and bitterness have continued to guide some of the rash decisions some leaders take. For a split second, it makes sense that the national body of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders of Nigeria would move to stop its members from supplying and selling cattle to the South if some governors affected the alleged eviction of Fulani herdsmen.

But when one thinks of the implications of such touchy decisions in a country like Nigeria, where small fires can raze the ground, a second line of thought is always needed.

Nigeria is passing through one of its darkest periods. The best way out is to unite against the common foes that are out to throw the country into an abyss of destruction. The major concern now should be the obliteration of bandits and insurgents that engendered this whole menace in the first place.

Nelson Okoh

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