That was Nigeria’s policy during the civil war to justify starving of hundreds of thousands of Biafrans to death and that policy remains institutionalised. Whether we like it or not, short of admitting it, Nigeria is in a state of war. The only difference from the civil war is that there is no clear-cut demarcation into two unequal sides. The present insecurity is aimed at some form of control or the other by the warring sides.
Inevitably, we are today grappling with various fallouts of this war. Nigeria is unsafe for northerners in their own part of the country as well as in the South, while southerners are also not safe down the Niger, each side being victims, very often fatal victims of attacks by the other. This is a very disturbing situation in view of the violence and kidnappings overwhelming northerners at home by mainly the locals, just as southerners are even worse placed under kidnappings, rape of their womenfolk and destruction of their farms, causing fatal victims inflicted by those described as foreign Fulanis. Since there are also Nigerian Fulanis, it may perhaps be unfortunate that they are incurring the hostilities of their fellow Nigerian citizens. In this atmosphere of helplessness, Nigerians on the receiving end are resorting to self-help.
The latest of such self-help is the food blockade imposed by northern food sellers (not northern governments) against their southern Nigerian fellow citizens. Predictably, Nigeria’s overzealous secret police (SSS) intervened by inviting the leaders of food sellers, hopefully, for discussions, rather than questioning, except for obstruction of traffic on the highway. Otherwise, it is purely the private affair of food sellers to decide where and to whom to sell their commodities. Also, a baseless case was made by critics of the blockade that dissenters among the food sellers should be freely allowed to sell if they so wished. Not exactly so. In such group action, peaceful picketing is allowed to make sure nobody or group breaks rank to frustrate the action. On this score, strong emphasis is placed on the PEACEFUL nature of the picketing.
Criticisms, mainly by southerners, against northern food traders for the (now short-lived) food war or blockade are unwarranted and unsustainable. Have we, so soon, forgotten the course and policies of the Federal Government throughout the civil war? Federal side, comprising South-West, South-South and the North, imposed food blockade against Biafra as a means of subduing them. And when criticised, Obafemi Awolowo, as vice-chairman of Federal Executive Council, spearheaded the justification of the food blockade of Biafra with rhetoric that starvation is a legitimate weapon in war. Why, therefore, should southerners, especially, southwesterners, moan against the same food weapon employed by northern food traders, today? As clarified above, Nigerians must face the fact that we are in a state of war with one section or group of sections hostile against the other to such an extent that, depending on the location of the average citizen, our security exists till the minute you are not yet bombed, kidnapped, shot or slaughtered. In that wise, northern food traders are legitimate to employ potential starvation of their critics and, perhaps, enemies with blockade.
There has been a strange demand for reprisal oil blockade against the North since oil is from the South. Explicitly, the proponents want transportation of fuel to be blocked against the North. Is it that straightforward? Food blockade against the South was not imposed by either Federal Government or any of the 19 northern states. Instead, the food blockade was imposed by northern food traders fighting against group personal insecurity and for economic war of survival. Federal Government cannot, therefore, impose oil blockade against the North as an entity. Those blessed with that weapon are oil magnates and tanker drivers who are largely northerners. To blockade their kith and kin? Mere illusion.
Should northern food traders be proud of their action or have they set any precedent? Definitely not. Even the federal side could not be proud of its starvation weapon during the civil war. An inhuman exercise, the only man in history who set the record Nigeria copied during the civil war was Adolf Hitler who during world wars deliberately starved Jews to death at various concentration camps like Dachau and Belsen. Hitler committed suicide after losing second world war.
Contrary to the apparent aim of northern food traders in imposing blockade against the South to thereby render food items scarce and expensive, there was instant backlash as the message sank. First, there was an unusual consensus (as distinct from unity) of the South against the blockade imposed by northern food traders. The resolve was that never again would one or any part of the country entirely depend on another part of the country for its food security. This is aimed at not only food sufficiency but also at cheaper prices. That message was taken in by the South. Henceforth, farming, specifically for food products, is to be intensified in all ramifications throughout the South to enable each zone rely on itself for its food supply. It is not so much the eventual loss in business for northern food traders as the increased danger to be posed by Fulani cattle herders encroaching on farms in the South.
From this menace came kidnappings by Fulani herders targeting farm owners, their families, including wives who are raped, farm hands slaughtered in the process and inept government response to these fast deteriorating security problems. Ransom was paid in some cases to save government embarrassment where top Nigerians were kidnapped even though in some cases the victims were still murdered. The weak and inconsistent response to the crime of kidnapping emboldened potential culprits to spread not only to farms throughout the South but eventually to highways and educational institutions in the North. Quick and lucrative business had arrived. Government would never admit major responsibility for the major rise in the crime of kidnapping in the country in the last four years. Is it not time for kidnapping to be made a federal crime in Nigeria? If states are too timid and indeed afraid to tackle the crime, is that not the responsibility of Federal Government? The result is the incoherence, seeming indifference and lack of credibility in government response to all matters of insecurity in the country.
Obviously embarrassed and rattled by the Zamfara episode in which over 300 students were reportedly kidnapped, it was reported that aviation minister Hadi Sirika delivered President Buhari’s assurance to Zamfara governor Bello Matawalle that the kidnap of students in that state would be the last or would never happen again. That should be alarming, at least with a built-in future controversy. Which would be the last, kidnapping at all, kidnapping in Zamfara, kidnapping of students in Zamfara, kidnapping of students anywhere in Nigeria or which is which? Who was that security chief who gave Buhari that assurance in these uncertain times? Nigerians deserve to know in clear terms what Buhari meant in his assurance on kidnappings to the Zamfara governor.
Before clarifying himself on his assurance on whatever aspect of the current wave of kidnapping, Buhari must realise that such assurance carries the risk of honour. In genuine democracies, a breach of such public commitment does not go without consequences and does not require a Yakasai to remind. Also, Zamfara State governor Matawalle is expected to keep his words to name, TODAY, those he alleged are sponsoring kidnappings and banditry in the state. It is time we started making our public office holders accountable.
While on the cause(s) of the present crisis, the state and rate of kidnappings are rendering the venture a commercial ritual, especially throughout the North. After every incident, Nigerians are assured no ransom was paid for the release of every victim. Not the least after the kidnapping of students in Zamfara State. It is sad to report that Nigerians no longer believe that purported policy. The Zamfara kidnappings took place while the kidnapped Kagara students in Niger State were still making world headlines on prospects of being set free. Two days after they were released purportedly without paying any ransom, a group of 50 travellers was newly kidnapped in the same Niger State while murderers went on rampage in Zango Kataf in southern Kaduna. Could it then be true that these criminals kidnap, rape, loot and kill just for the fun of it or set them free without collecting a kobo?
The otherwise respected Muslim cleric, Sheikh Gumi, has emerged as a controversial Good Samaritan in this matter, with his plea that bandits and kidnappers terrorising northern parts of the country should not be labelled criminals. That is strange. Who but criminals would kidnap, rape women/girls and kill? If rightly labelling them criminals would guarantee no peace, then let there be no peace and, of course, law enforcement agents must perform their duty. The country cannot be overwhelmed by criminals.
Sheikh Gumi’s call for amnesty for the criminal rampaging the north was prejudicially criticised on the ground that Niger Delta criminals similarly granted amnesty are revolutionaries. Who said so? Murderers and economic saboteurs now being dignified as revolutionaries? Even revolutionaries caught in serious societies face the laws, which are not necessarily pleasant. Criminals in any part of Nigeria must face the law or be granted amnesty without any preferential treatment. Nigerians must make up their mind. If IPOB members are summarily executed for mere political agitation or sometimes for violent actions not in any way different from northern kidnappers, rapists, murderers or bandits and Niger Delta criminals, why must some be dignified revolutionaries? At best, all of them are criminal agitators and deserve the same treatment, including amnesty also for IPOB members.
By the way, there is always the compelling need to prevail on President Buhari to tame his feuding cabinet members. A situation where National Security Adviser General Monguno would be raising security alarm on G5 only to be countermanded by Communications Minister Pantami could not be satisfactory. In fact, it exposes the administration to public and international ridicule. The certainty is that one of the disputants must be wrong and the other right. Buhari must scold the wrong party to shut his mouth or get out of the administration.
The northern food traders have ended their blockade of food supplies to the South. There should be no surprise in view of the financial losses they (northern food traders) must have suffered and now still stand to suffer. The damage is irreversible.