By Masara Kim and Daksun Habila
One would have been quick to fault the Acting President, Yemi Osibanjo on his claims in the 2017 Democracy Day broadcast of defeating insecurity in the northeast. He had highlighted some strides recorded by the Buhari-led government in the war against insurgency in the region to include the return of displaced persons including farmers to their farms.

However, perhaps just as the Executive President, Muhammadu Buhari and his Cabinet members who are mostly also thought to be lying each time they try to assure of government’s victory against Boko Haram in the northeast, the Acting President might just be uninformed.

Government officials certainly cannot be everywhere. They therefore depend largely on the information supplied to them from their field officers for any policy decisions or statements. The Nigerian government has indeed been on its oars as far as the anti-insecurity struggle is concerned. The allocation of resources for the purchase of military hardware as well as the training of military personnel for the campaign is indeed commendable.

What is however of concern is that while there is still much to be done, baseless pronouncements are constantly being made on how well the fight is going in favour of government troops. Understood, good public relations and conflict sensitive approaches are necessary for the social and psychological wellbeing of the country.

However, those affected by the situation know the truth and feel discouraged each time the government says things that are not on ground. The insurgents themselves could sometimes be propelled to leave signatures of their continued existence, through renewed attacks whenever government goes public with the half-baked truth.
Children fetching water from a well shared with cattle in Northeast Borno.
photo by Masara Kim

The Light Bearer’s recent trip to the northeast where it had the privilege of traveling through a road that is bordered on one side by the Sambisa forest in fact was eye opening on why Boko Haram is always fond of releasing videos, making daring statements against the government and sometimes calling the officers liars.

Military guarding farmers
The military in Borno state where The Light Bearer toured are indeed brave. They are mere mortals with the same emotions like everyone else. They however defy every comfort to operate in such deadly terrains where they constantly have to live in fear of an unexpected attack.

There are even soldiers who have hardly spent 24 hours with their families in over three years. They don’t get the chance to see civilian faces regularly. Therefore, such opportunities especially during military guarded mass convoy travels which is the fashion especially between Maiduguri and Damboa, always make their excitement palpable.

Those of them that operate in the villages with few traces of civilian residents do not even know who is for or against them as the insurgents at times reportedly send them children and women as spies. They always have to be on guard while at the same time providing security to the civilians in their places of worship, businesses, schools and farmlands.

However, the farms are scattered with some even located miles away from the communities which cannot all be guarded. The soldiers in such places therefore have only had to designate areas and periods within which farming activities can take place. Anything beyond those hours or territories is not their responsibility. The farmers who have their farms located outside the designated territories which cover only few meters around the affected communities will therefore depend on relief materials, if ever to survive.

Furthermore, in Chibok for instance which The Light Bearer visited, the fertile lands which require little or no fertilizer for any yield are the farthest which are unguarded. Those whose farms fall within the guarded areas therefore have the challenge of purchasing fertilizer or risk their chances of making good harvest.

With the growing insecurity in the region however, which has virtually crippled socio-economic activities, the resources to get these farm inputs are another challenge. Since government and humanitarian service providers only assist in the area of food supply, any of such needs as clothing, healthcare, toiletries, school fees and among others, farm inputs have to be provided by the people themselves, which in most cases they can’t afford.

Persistent Isolated attacks driving farmers away

The same is the case in the middle-belt, the agricultural hub of Nigeria. Farmers displaced during the recent Fulani herdsmen attacks in Plateau state cannot return to their farms because of persistent, mostly isolated attacks. The few places where farming activities are safely carried out are either less fertile or located in the cities where land is in high demand and only short crops can be cultivated.

Sometimes in fact, the Fulani wait for the crops to be cultivated, but while they are still growing, they go overnight and mow down the farms. In some instances however, they let the crops reach harvest but either graze on them or steal them. That leaves the farmers with deep scars and frustration, giving that their entire means of survival has been taken away from them despite expending their lifetime savings on it.

In the Southeast as well, women in Delta state recently protested over frequent attacks by herdsmen who mostly chase their husbands and rape the women. The Fulani herders are also said to be in the habit of harvesting natives’ farm produce with which they use to feed their cattle.

The development, which is almost the same in Anambra and other states in the region has crippled socio-economic life in the region. Prices of agricultural products such as garri, plantain, yam, okro, melon, maize-corn, sugar-cane and vegetables have shot up beyond the reach of the average salary earner/ family as reports The Vanguard.

In many of the tormented farming states of the federation, Gov. Ortom of Benue state seems to be the boldest in dealing with the situation. By signing into law the bill banning public grazing, the governor has drastically reduced attacks on farmers. Most other governors just like the presidency always make merry over achievements they haven’t recorded in the security sector.

In Delta, while the governor was claiming he had deployed policemen to accompany farmers to their farms, the farmers said they had no security guards on their farms. Likewise, while Gov. Lalong was celebrating the return of peace having successfully nipped all forms of insecurity in the bud, farmers say they are being shot at each time they go to cultivate.  

The general implication is that food for local consumption and raw materials needed to facilitate the federal government’s local manufacturing policy might not be in adequate supply. This is because most farmers have merely been forced into subsistent agriculture, producing just enough to feed their families.

 No end to Inflation

With the government still banning importation of cash crops and other items believed to be locally produced, it means then that even after recession, inflation might not easily disappear which means more prolonged hardship for the populace. And as the saying goes, a hungry man is an angry man. Many of the starved children and youths if not properly curbed have the tendency of engaging in criminal activities and even insurgency.

This probably explains why the government forces are constantly being accused of human rights abuses in the northeast. This is not because the forces are killing innocent souls as always alleged. Perhaps, it is because innocent souls are sometimes forced by humanitarian crises to join the insurgents in order to survive.

With the military already being faced with a myriad of challenges including inadequate facilities and motivation, the end therefore to insurgency might not be in sight. South Africa for instance has only about 90, 000 active military personnel while Nigeria has at least 130,000 according to reports. However, South Africa has 12 attack helicopters while Nigeria has nine, 17 attack aircrafts with Nigeria again having only nine, and among others, three submarines with Nigeria having none.

Even the towed artillery which Nigeria has more than South Africa are either not as modern or powerful as those used by the insurgents. They use, wherever they get them from, some of the most sophisticated weapons including rocket-propelled grenade launchers with almost unlimited rounds of ammunition.

The military on the other hand who have some of these weapons in short supply most times have to make do with short range assault rifles with not quite sufficient ammunitions to use. All thanks to their professional training, which perhaps is the only advantage they have against the insurgents.

Perhaps, if the field commanders are always furnishing those at the top helm of affairs with factual reports on how the soldiers are fairing and the level of success attained in the fight, the government would, instead of claiming victory, renew efforts at reinvigorating them.

Now that it appears the government is uninformed, it is left to believe that all is well with the region and its inhabitants, and of course the soldiers, who as at mid – May 2017 had not received their allowances for months. What needs to be done presently is perhaps, setting up investigative moves towards better assessing the situation, by comparing facts whenever reports are filed from the top military officers. That perhaps is the only way to guarantee success in the fight against insurgency especially in the northeast region.