Foodstuff Blockade: Is Buhari Backing Northern Interest against South?

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THEFRONTLINES:JOSEPH USHIGIALE - joseph.ushigiale@thisdaylive.com 08023422660 (sms only)

The Frontlines By Joseph Ushigiale

Imagine a scenario where Nigeria would perhaps on the basis of a diplomatic spat decide not to deal with its major crude oil trading partners like India, China, United States by boycotting the sale of crude oil to any of them. What do you think could be the likely outcome of such a foolish self serving decision?

In a world where it is the buyers’ turf, where their purchasing power gives them the latitude to choose and in the face of countless opportunities the buyer is King and the seller is virtually left eating from his palms, who blinks first?

It was therefore surprising to hear that the a faceless group which was hurriedly put together as the Amalgamated Union of Foodstuff and Cattle Dealers of Nigeria (AUFCDN) directed its members to commence an indefinite strike and stop the movement of food items from the North to the South.

The reason for this decision, according to the group, was to protest what it said was government’s failure to address the alleged killings of its members in parts of the country. As a punitive measure, the union announced that was also stopping its members from moving cattle and foodstuffs to the country’s southern part.

This was in line with the threat of the national body of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria to stop its members from supplying and selling cattle to the South if some governors affected the alleged eviction of Fulani herdsmen.
As the enforcement team of the group swung into action, 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.

The trucks, reportedly conveying agricultural goods owned by Fulani cattle merchants, were reportedly stopped from entering the Jebba town, Kwara State border town with Niger State on their way to the South-West on Thursday.
It was gathered that the stoppage might have to do with the threat of the national body of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria to stop its members from supplying and selling cattle to the South if some southern governors went ahead with their threat to evict Fulani herdsmen.

Before commencing the strike action, they had earlier issued a seven-day ultimatum to the Federal Government asking for N450m compensation to the union for the death of over 250 members and the destruction of their property or face a strike action. The union alleged that 151 of its members were killed during the Shasha crisis in Oyo State while over 100 members were killed during the ENDSARS protest across the country. But the government failed to succumb to this blackmail initially.
However, as the blockade persisted sending the cost of foodstuff heading north, most southern states dismissed the blockade as a storm in a tea cup with no significant impact. Almost all southern states see the blockade as an affront and a call for them to look inwards and plan for the inevitable.

From Ondo, home of the fireworks, the Senior Special Assistant, Agriculture and Agric Business, Mr Akin Olotu, the Senior Special Assistant to the Ondo State Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, on Agriculture and Agric Business, dismissed the blockade and describing it as a good development and an eye-opener to utilise opportunities the South had in agriculture.
“We won’t appeal to them to bring the food to the South. If they want to bring it, let them bring it. If they don’t want to bring, let them take it away, but nobody will beg them. It is a welcome development, it would spur our people to embrace agriculture the more, particularly at the family level.

“We are not relenting here. It is a matter of months, our tomatoes and pepper would start coming out for harvest. We are working on onions too . Very soon, we will begin to grow our own onions. The only appeal we can make to them is for them to leave our forests and stop destroying our farms.” He announced.

His Cross River State counterpart and Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Mr Asu Okang, said there was no use appealing to those blocking food coming from the north to the south as the blockade would not last long; because according to him, “They can’t block foodstuffs from coming to the South for too long because if you say you are protesting and you won’t go to the market with your food, who suffers?
“Nigeria has come to stay as one country and we must understand that no ethnic group is superior to the other. If they decide to hoard what they produce, and the Niger Delta decides to go into that kind of boycott, what will happen? Will there be fuel in the North?” He asked rhetorically.

The action undertaken by this group to wage an unwarranted blockade against the south on such a flimsy excuse poses a question mark on the unity of this country and the perception that one part of the country can perpetually cripple the other part if it were possible.
It has become clear to the northern traders after this botched exercise now that they and their goods are not entirely indispensable. Indeed, the South can do without the foodstuff from the north for as long as it pleases if they north is now resorting to such blackmail and arm twisting antics to force its northernization policy down south.

The truth be told, if the north that has very difficult climate conditions, no adequate rains, threatened by desert encroachment can grow food in commercial quantity enough to sell to the south, what is the south waiting for? After all, the south has comparative advantage in cattle, tomatoes, onion, lettuce, beans, rice and name it. The south has adequate rainfall and sunshine enough to cultivate every agriculture item it ever wants without resorting to the north.

But why is the north so audacious to the point of threatening the south with a blockade? Is it not tantamount to surreptitiously decreeing hunger for southerners? Assuming the south relied entirely on the north for food supply what would have happened in the days that the strike or blockade lasted? How many children and families would have perished in this thoughtless madness?
In the last six years since the present administration took office, some northerners have carried on in a manner depicting that they own this country. President Muhammadu Buhari has not helped matters either with his inaction. The result has been the proliferation of once unknown groups like Miyetti Allah, the AUFCDN and several others jostling for patronage.

Under his watch, Fulani militias are holding the country in vice grip, kidnapping, rapping, killing and appropriating farmlands of land owners. Miyetti Allah is busy challenging the authorities of states that have outlawed open grazing. In all this, apart from the preponderance of kidnapping for ransom, the Buhari regime has commissioned Sheik Gumi to negotiate with the Fulani criminal elements so as to grant them amnesty.

This is apart from an earlier plan to pay off these mercenaries that were imported from neighboring countries for the 2015 elections with a whopping N100b brokered by the same Miyetti Allah. They were also to get a radio station that would broadcast in fulfulde in addition to the pay off.

Now that the traders have bitten the dust following the woeful failure of the blockade and are looking for how to save their faces, it would be a grave injustice and the height of insensitivity for Buhari to succumb to their usual resort to blackmail him into paying them N4.75b to cover losses for their products.
In deciding to take the blockade rout, the group would have considered the consequences of their actions including the risk factors. Therefore, since members vouched to allow their goods perish rather than transport them to the south, government owes them no compensation.

If government pays them compensation, it then means it has to also work out a form of compensation for southerners who suffered the hunger and deprivation while the blockade lasted. Failing to take both sides along on this issue would amount to taking sides and neglecting one over the other.
The north should know by now that it has no monopoly of resources, the south has crude oil and it is its resources regarded of claim by northerners that the federal government own crude oil. If that were to be the case, why did the federal government not own gold in Zamfara? Is it only crude oil located in the south that the federal government would own?

Assuming crude oil was deposited as it is in the south exclusively in the north, do you think there would be a one Nigeria? Going by the recent action of the north, if the south decides to embark on crude oil blockade won’t it be interpreted as a call to war? The north should remember that what is good for the gander is also good for the goose. If we are to remain as an indivisible and united country, we must have mutual respect for each other. The current winner takes all approach of the north against the south is antithetical to nation building because we are in a democracy and not running a feudal hegemony.