From Chris Uchenna Agbedo

Public Forum


In recent years, Nigeria has been grappling with a growing menace that threatens not just its security but also its food security: the scourge of banditry. The recent harrowing tale of former Governor of Sokoto State, Alhaji Attahiru Bafarawa, who was sacked from his 10,000-hectare farm in Kaduna State, underscores the severity of the situation that has been deteriorating in recent years. In December 2021 for instance, the Niger State Commissioner for Local Government, Chieftaincy Affairs and Internal Security, Emmanuel Umar, confirmed that “some criminal elements in Rumbun Giwa in the Mashegu Local Government Area of Niger State wrote under the name, ‘Kungiyan Manuma’, ordering all farmers to pay some specific levies and taxes before they could harvest their farm.”

In September 2022, the Chairman of Birnin-Gwari Emirate Progressive Union (BEPU), Ishaq Usman Kasai had in a statement, claimed “the bandits informed some farming communities including Kwaga, Kwanan-Shehu, Unguwan Liman and Unguwan Shekarau to pay levies amounting to N12 million (3 million each) in order for them to be allowed to continue harvesting their crops.” A news report by Daily Trust newspaper of 24 November 2023 anchored by Mohammed Yaba, entitled ‘Kaduna farmers in dilemma as bandits impose levies before harvest,’ farming communities of Igabi, Giwa, and Birnin Gwari local council areas of Kaduna State are ‘compelled to pay levies to the bandits to allow them to harvest their crops and access their farmlands’. Another report by JB Morgan Intelligence published in February 2024 noted that “farmers in northern Nigeria pay bandits up to N100,000 for permission to farm, with additional payments required for harvesting.

Those who resist these demands face severe consequences, including abduction, murder or confiscation of their produce, the Report noted. In March 2024, the Report by SBM Intelligence entitled, ‘‘Levies or Lives – The Dilemma of Farmers in Northern Nigeria,’ farmers in the North-West region paid N139.5 million to bandits as levies within a period of four years (2020-2023). According to the Report, farming is fast losing its appeal to farmers due to heavy taxation by bandits, a development that has worsened food availability and affordability in the region and by extension, the entire country. This has reflected in the runaway hyper-inflation that has been plaguing Nigeria’s economy. Headline inflation rate gleaned from the National Bureau of Statistics’ (NBS) data, rose for the 13th consecutive time in January 2024 to 29.90 percent from 28.92 percent in December 2023.

Food inflation, which constitutes 50 percent of the inflation rate, rose to 35.41 percent from 33.93 percent. According to Stephen Onyeiwu, Professor of Economics and Business, Allegheny College, “Nigeria’s unprecedented inflation is a case of multiple factors interacting to trigger cost-push inflation. If not addressed urgently, Nigeria’s rising inflation could result in ‘stagflation’. This is when the lack of robust economic growth is combined with hyperinflation,” Prof Onyeiwu contended.

Bandits, armed to the teeth and emboldened by impunity, have become a formidable force, wreaking havoc across Nigeria’s agricultural heartlands. The implications of this unchecked banditry extend far beyond mere security concerns; they reach into the very fabric of Nigeria’s food supply chain. While the farming communities in the northern parts of Nigeria seem to have the ‘privileged’ option of paying levies in exchange for their dear lives, this is hardly the case with the Nimbo community in Uzo-Uwani local council area of Enugu State that has been bearing the brunt of unprovoked attacks by armed herdsmen since April 2016 when they lost not less than 40 people to killer herdsmen. Exactly 7 years later, precisely Saturday, 27 April, gunmen suspected to be killer-herdsmen swooped on the farming community, killing 4 natives and inflicting matchet cuts on many others, who were lucky to escape by a hair’s breath.

Nigeria, once heralded as the breadbasket of West Africa, is now on the brink of a famine crisis due to the alarming escalation of food scarcity caused by the disruption of agricultural activities by bandit attacks. The agricultural sector, which employs a significant portion of Nigeria’s population and contributes substantially to its GDP, has become a prime target for these marauding bandits. Farming communities, already grappling with challenges such as erratic weather patterns and inadequate infrastructure, now face the additional burden of insecurity. Farmers, fearing for their lives, are forced to abandon their lands, leaving vast swathes of arable land fallow and crops unharvested. The consequences of this exodus from farming communities are dire. Food production plummets, leading to acute shortages and soaring prices.

Families, already struggling to make ends meet, find themselves unable to afford even the most basic necessities. Malnutrition rates skyrocket, particularly among vulnerable groups such as children and the elderly. The spectre of famine looms large, casting a long shadow over the country’s future. The Nigerian government, cognizant of the gravity of the situation, must take urgent and decisive action to address the scourge of banditry and safeguard the nation’s food security. This requires a multi-faceted approach that combines robust law enforcement efforts with targeted investments in rural development and community empowerment. First and foremost, the government must prioritize the restoration of law and order in areas plagued by banditry.

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This entails deploying adequate security forces to deter attacks, apprehend perpetrators, and restore peace to affected communities. Additionally, efforts should be made to strengthen intelligence-gathering capabilities to preemptively identify and neutralize threats before they escalate. Furthermore, the government must invest in initiatives aimed at revitalizing the agricultural sector and empowering rural communities. This includes improving access to credit and agricultural inputs for smallholder farmers, upgrading infrastructure such as roads and irrigation systems, and providing training and extension services to enhance agricultural productivity. Collaboration with relevant stakeholders, including local communities, civil society organizations, and international partners, is also crucial in addressing the root causes of banditry and fostering sustainable peace and development in affected areas.

In recent times, the Nigerian government has repeatedly pointed fingers at hoarding and smuggling as major twin causes of the Nigeria’s food shortages. In February 2024, Vice-President Kashim Shettima observed that the federal government had uncovered 32 routes used to smuggle food to neighbouring countries, while addressing a conference on public wealth management in Abuja, noting that the routes were found in Illela LGA, Sokoto state, where security operatives intercepted 45 trucks loaded with maize, which were being smuggled to neighbouring countries. “Just three nights ago, 45 trucks of maize were caught being transported to neighbouring countries. Just in that Illela axis, there are 32 illegal smuggling routes,” Shettima said, adding that the interception caused the price of maize to dip by N10,000. The Vice President even went further down the conspiracy theory road to accuse those he identified as “forces,” who he claimed were “hell-bent on undermining our nation.”

In his words, “some of our countrymen are still in the political mode. They are the practitioners of violence, advocating that Nigeria should go the Lebanon way…forces are hell-bent on plunging this country into a state of anarchy. Those who could not get to power through the ballot box, instead of them to wait till 2027, are so desperate,” VP Shettima charged. This narrative, while not entirely unfounded, raises critical questions about the underlying factors driving food scarcity and the efficacy of government responses. It is undeniable that hoarding, the deliberate stockpiling of essential commodities for the purpose of creating artificial scarcity and driving up prices, is a significant contributor to food shortages in Nigeria. Unscrupulous individuals and entities exploit market dynamics and vulnerabilities in the supply chain to manipulate prices for personal gain, exacerbating the plight of already vulnerable populations.

Nonetheless, attributing the entirety of Nigeria’s current food shortages to nefarious activities of hoarders and opposition politicians tends to overlook deeper structural issues within the agricultural sector and broader systemic failures that undermine food security. This underscores the imperative of unpacking the Federal Government’s claims on food shortages and determine the extent to which the looming famine is a function of hoarding or systemic failures.

First and foremost, Nigeria’s agricultural productivity remains alarmingly low, lagging behind population growth and domestic demand. Despite being endowed with fertile land and favourable climatic conditions, the sector is plagued by a myriad of challenges, including inadequate access to finance and agricultural inputs, poor infrastructure, inefficient land tenure systems, and limited adoption of modern farming techniques. Moreover, insecurity, particularly in the agricultural heartlands of the country, poses a significant threat to food production and distribution. Farmers, faced with the constant threat of banditry, kidnapping, and herders’ needless encroachment on farmlands with their livestock, are unable to tend to their fields effectively, leading to decreased yields and disrupted supply chains.

Furthermore, Nigeria’s dependence on food imports to meet domestic demand exposes it to external shocks, such as fluctuations in global commodity prices and disruptions in international trade. The government’s seeming reluctance to prioritize investment in domestic agriculture and promote self-sufficiency leaves the country vulnerable to supply chain disruptions and price volatility. In light of these systemic challenges, the government’s singular focus on hoarding as the cause of food shortages may be missing the point. While cracking down on hoarders is undoubtedly necessary, it must be accompanied by broader reforms aimed at addressing the root causes of food insecurity and building a more resilient agricultural sector. This requires concerted efforts to improve agricultural productivity through targeted investments in infrastructure, research and development, extension services, and capacity building for farmers.

It also necessitates the implementation of policies that promote value addition, agro-processing, and market linkages to enhance the competitiveness of Nigerian agricultural products both domestically and internationally. Furthermore, tackling insecurity in rural areas is paramount to safeguarding food production and distribution channels. This entails deploying adequate security forces, enhancing intelligence-gathering capabilities, and fostering community-based approaches to conflict resolution and peacebuilding.

In conclusion, while hoarding and smuggling certainly exacerbate Nigeria’s food shortages, it is but one piece of a much larger puzzle. To truly address the root causes of food insecurity and ensure the availability of affordable and nutritious food for all Nigerians, the government must adopt a holistic and multifaceted approach that addresses the systemic failures plaguing the agricultural sector and fosters sustainable development. The time to act is now. Nigeria stands at a critical juncture, teetering on the brink of a famine crisis of unprecedented proportions.

Unless decisive action is taken to tackle the scourge of banditry and revitalize the agricultural sector, the consequences will be catastrophic, not just for Nigeria but for the entire West African region. It is incumbent upon the government and all stakeholders to rise to the challenge and avert this looming humanitarian disaster.

•Prof Agbedo writes from University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN)