If Modupe Oyetoso had known that her fiancé would be targeted and killed on his farm she would not have introduced him to farming. Now, all she knows are regret, guilt, sadness, fear and shock all mingled together.
On the day Modupe’s world came tumbling down, she and her fiancé had just left their farm at Lanlate, located between Iseyin and Eruwa in Oyo State after a particularly tough day when they were attacked by bandits. That was the beginning of Modupe’s nightmare. It is an experience she dreads to recount because of the emotional trauma that always accompanies it.
But she has been told of how unhealthy it is to bottle up her anger and frustration, so she has concluded that talking about it, though painful, might just be the one thing that would cure her of her recent desire for self-abuse, which has sometimes been suicidal.
“It was unexpected as it happened around 5pm. Four bandits waylaid us and as my fiancé was trying to manoeuvre to find a way to escape, one of the gunmen shot him,” she said, recalling the tragic experience of that evening.
“The bullet hit my fiancé in the head – it went in through the back of his head. I didn’t know what to do, as blood was gushing out of his head. I thought I could save him by applying pressure on it to stop the blood from coming out, but I couldn’t do it because the car was still in motion, and it almost hit a tree.”
After she managed to stop the vehicle, the assailants caught up with her and whisked her off into a nearby forest. They abandoned her fiancé and left him to die, despite her desperate cries that he needed help.
Modupe recalled that the bandits didn’t only kill her fiancé, they also dehumanized her.
“In the forest, the bandits tied my hands and one of them was pulling me with the rope, while another one was hitting me from the back to get me to move faster so they could escape. When I slumped onto the ground, they beat me and pulled me up. I had to summon the strength to run along with them as it was raining.”
After brutalizing their victim, the bandits demanded a ransom of N50m to release her.
“When we got to a place, they brought out my fiancé’s phone, removed his SIM card, inserted it into another phone and asked me to call my parents to inform them that they wanted N50m before they would release me,” she said.
“My dad started pleading with them and they told him that if he wanted to see me alive, he should get the money. They spoke with him in Yoruba, but communicated with each other in another language.
“We have a lot of Fulani settlers where our farm is located so I could tell that those people were Fulani. They were dressed like them. They told me they didn’t have any cattle and that kidnapping was the only thing they did for money.”
Many farmers have been killed, maimed, kidnapped and injured over the years. They are kidnapped and, in some cases, killed on their farms. According to the farmers who spoke to our correspondent, this unfortunate situation has no doubt affected planting and contributed to the recent increase in the prices of food items.
For instance, Boko Haram terrorists reportedly killed at least 43 farm workers and injured six in rice fields in Koshebe, a place in the Mafa Local Government Area of Borno State last Saturday. An anti-jihadist militia told AFP that the assailants tied up the farmer and slit their throats in the village. Also, a member of the state Civilian Joint Task Force, Babakura Kolo, who assisted some of the survivors, put the number of people killed at 43, but the United Nations later said 110 rice farmers lost their lives during the attack.
A factional leader of the Boko Haram insurgents, Abubakar Shekau, who confirmed that his group was responsible for the killing, in a three-minute video released on Tuesday, said his group killed 78 farmers because “the farmers arrested and handed one of its brothers to the Nigerian Army”.
Safety of life over crops
Farmers have always been protective of their crops as they are the fruits of their hard work, which are expected to bring in income or at the very least, feed them and their families. The recent events mean farmers now have to choose between saving themselves or their crops in the absence of security guarantee against incessant threats.
A farmer in Niger State, Grace Disa, noted how insecurity has affected food production in the state, particularly in four local government areas.
“Just last week (recently), two farmers were killed and 23 others were kidnapped. It is a battle faced by both male and female farmers,” Disa said.
She identified the crops predominantly cultivated in the area as including rice, beans, soybeans, guinea corn, and yam.
“Lockdown (occasioned by COVID-19 pandemic) really affected farmers so if you add insecurity to that, you get the reason for the shortage of foodstuffs and increase in food prices. We have not been able to go to the farm, even to harvest,” she added.
“We are all scared – both men and women. Since kidnappings and bandit attacks became common, many farmers have stopped going to their farms and because they aren’t going there, thieves steal from the farms. This automatically affects harvests and then reflects in the prices of goods and commodities. It eventually led to food shortage.
“We have to choose between our lives and our crops and many of us have chosen our lives because they are worth more than food.”
Another farmer, Mrs Mosun Umoru, identified insecurity, challenges with forex, and COVID-19 as responsible for the recent increase in food prices.
She said, “Currently in the country, there is instability. Also, it costs a lot to get forex. We know how COVID-19 also hit the world. And before that, we were battling with insecurity, access to input, and climate change.
“The problem of insecurity is still there. The safety of farmers on the farm is not guaranteed. Right now, the challenge is that herders come into our farms to graze their cattle and this is affecting our operations and output. Farmers are being kidnapped anyhow so we are not able to cultivate.”
Umoru added that because of bad roads and traffic congestion, farmers get to their farms late and then have to leave early because it’s unsafe to stay late in the farm.
“So farmers aren’t even able to do much on the farm because of these problems, which no doubt would affect food production,” she said.
“Insecurity is a big challenge for me. I can’t afford to keep paying mobile police to escort me to the farm. You want to stay on the farm to work, but you don’t feel safe.”
Speaking on the increase in the prices of poultry and livestock and the projected further increase in food prices in December, the Chief Executive Officer of Farm Shoppe identified climate change as one of the contributory factors.
Umoru added, “In some places, farmers don’t have irrigation and the rains didn’t start on time. Basically, we were not prepared for the challenges we faced. The inconsistencies in rainfall this year also affected farmers. Only people who had irrigation could do well.
“The recent increase in fuel prices also negatively affected cost of production and the livelihoods of farmers and their association.”
The multi-agro farmer said the scarcity of raw materials such as maize also contributed to the problem as the poultry industry depends largely on maize.
She added, “Fifty per cent or 70 per cent of our food substitute is largely dependent on maize. So, if the country could not produce enough maize and depended on some countries that shut their borders on account of COVID-19 for about six months, then there was no way food prices would not go up.
“There are so many issues and the scarcity or high cost of maize is a major issue. We have been doing a lot of reviews for our retail prices. We import some of the feed that we use and because we went into lockdown for months, many people couldn’t get feed for production.
“Also regarding COVID-19, we didn’t have sufficient manpower for our operations because we had to put safety over income.”
Like other farmers, Jumoke Abikoye, said insecurity affected the production of food, which in turn led to increase in food prices.
She said, “Going to the farm has been a risky venture due to the recent activities of bandits. What I do is to avoid staying late on the farm. These days, I’m on the field and my heart is in my mouth. I have only been trusting God for safety.
“Quite a number of my fellow farmers have been attacked on the farm; some of them were kidnapped and they had to pay a lot of money before they were released. Recently, another colleague was kidnapped on Abuja-Kaduna Road. It’s not been easy. Many farmers have abandoned their crops on the farm. They can’t even go to the farm to harvest and if crops aren’t harvested, the farmers will lose and food availability will be affected. We all know that foodstuffs will be scarce if supply does not meet demand.”
In the same vein, a farmer who is the President, Igangan Agro Park Investors Association in Oyo State, Oluwafemi Abioye, lamented the issue of insecurity amongst the many challenges farmers are faced with in the hands of nomadic herders.
He confirmed that many farmers have deserted the farms, leaving their crops to rot because of threats to their lives.
He said, “My farmers have deserted the farms after they were attacked by herdsmen. Two of my farmers sustained injuries, and they aren’t sure of returning to the farm to work again. If farmers continue to abandon farming activities, how do we produce foodstuffs for the masses?”
Narrating his ordeal, Abioye said farming has been tough as he has been recording losses because of the activities of herdsmen.
He said, “To say our experience has been tough is an understatement. Despite being commercial farmers, we have not enjoyed any government support, financial or infrastructural. And the most important thing to us – security – is absent. I can tell you that the state is not doing so well in terms of this. We have a huge security problem at Agro Park.
“One of the reasons companies and individual farmers applied for land at the park was to feel secure. They felt that since the land belonged to the government, there wouldn’t be issues with ‘omo onile’ (land grabbers), thieves and all that. But we were wrong. At least, we thought if there were any, it would be minimal, but we were completely wrong. Since we moved there, we have been facing one form of insecurity or another.
“We moved here in 2018 and since that time, we have experienced different forms of farm destruction. Herdsmen would come in and destroy our farms. They would bring their cattle and destroy 50 or 60 acres of farmland with crops at a go. It could be cassava or maize. We at the park calculated our losses in June 2020 and realised that we had lost well over N320m to herdsmen since we came here in 2018. We have records; we didn’t pull this out of thin air.
“Between June and September, over 50 acres of maize and cassava have been destroyed. If you calculate that, the losses run into several millions of naira. That is what we suffer for doing agricultural business and we are not getting support or grants from anywhere. We are not even doing it to get grants. We just want a peaceful environment to do our business and we want the government to provide infrastructure. Herdsmen and locals should stop destroying our farms; that is all that we want.
“After destroying about 20 acres of maize farm, the local security men stopped them from further destroying the farm. These herdsmen, fully armed, became angry, but they could not do anything because the local guards were also armed, so they left. But they came back at night when the local security guards had to run for their lives. They destroyed about 10 acres of land with ripe cucumbers and watermelons. They slashed all the watermelons before daybreak.”
Nigerians groan as good prices go up
Oluseye Savage had given his wife, Yetunde, some money for the family upkeep. As usual, he’d give his wife N20 000 from his salary to get foodstuffs for the house for the month.
Savage, who is a teacher at a private school, hasn’t stabilized financially since the outbreak of COVID-19. According to him, the foodstuffs his wife returned home with some months ago completely shocked him. The N20,000 could not buy a quarter of the foodstuffs she used to buy some months earlier.
He said, “She came back with a few portions of rice, beans, garri and semo. She couldn’t even buy yam. She had to buy small quantities of palm oil and vegetables. If not that I know how honest my wife is, I could have sworn that my wife kept part of the money for herself.”
For Savage, it was a struggle living with his meagre salary even before now. Now, he is distressed by the situation such that he dreads to dare to think about the future.
“I don’t even know what to do because, at this rate, an average man can no longer survive in this country,” he added sharply with anger in his voice.
“The foodstuffs she bought finished well before the end of the month. We had to look for other means to survive for the month. I have increased the feeding allowance to N30,000 but the situation still didn’t improve.
“Beyond the cost of foodstuffs, we still have to deal with the increase in fuel prices and electricity tariff. I must confess that life has been tough and hellish.”
Mrs. Bose Fadairo, who trades in foodstuffs and frozen foods, sat in her shop morosely contemplating the future when our correspondent met her. Rising inflation amid tough economic situations has crippled her business. She feared the business might not survive beyond 2020.
“I used to purchase three bags of rice which I would sell to customers. The turnover was good and I was able to soon restock. But now, the story has changed. The amount of money that used to buy me three bags of rice is what I now use to buy one and a half bags of rice; sometimes, it is even worse than that. Even my frozen foods business has taken a hit,” she said.
“I don’t understand what is happening; it is affecting my business and I can’t even get the money I put into my business out. I can no longer afford the basic things that I need. My husband is a retiree, so my family has had to rely on my business for support, but things are getting really bad now.”
On the streets and on social media, Nigerians have been complaining about the recent hikes in prices of foodstuffs and goods. Onions, which are one of the most popular food items, have been likened to gold because of their high prices. A small onion, not bigger than an egg, is sold for N100.
Way out of tough situation
Umoru urged the government to improve security for farmers.
She said, “The government should also look into subsidising agriculture in Nigeria. We hear about loans for agriculture, but they are almost inaccessible. We don’t have any problem dealing with the cost of farming ourselves but the government must create an enabling environment for us. If I am bringing in seeds, make it easy for me to clear them at the port.
“Power tariff has doubled, fuel prices have gone up, and there are many inconsistencies in the economy.”
Abioye said the government must be sincere and ensure its policies truly encourage farming.
According to him, the government can solve the problem by ensuring that nomadic herders adopt ranching.
The factional President of All Farmers Association of Nigeria, Kabir Ibrahim, identified a number of factors as being responsible for the increase in food prices.
He said, “Our production was interfered with by COVID-19, the flooding that we had in some parts of northern Nigeria, especially the areas considered as the food baskets of the country, and insecurity in some areas in the North-West and North-East led to problems. Generally, we can say that the insufficiency sprouted from there. I am from a region where onions are produced. We noticed that the price increased.
“So, increase in food prices is not limited to a particular part, it is everywhere. In the Lagos area, because the onions and vegetables are just coming out, prices are very high now. But in a few months, there will be plenty of harvest. Prices might come down a little. But generally speaking, you must look at the economy. The economy necessitates that these things will cost more because the purchasing power of the currency is low.
“But generally speaking, many things will come into play and, God forbid that the recession should last for long, we might get into big trouble. There is the tendency that there will be more serious hunger in the country.”
Ibrahim added that the issue of banditry also contributed heavily to the shortage of food and increase in food prices.
He added, “I come from the southern part of Kaduna State, the border between Kaduna and Zamfara states, and that is the epicentre of banditry. You couldn’t go to your farm one kilometre outside my local government headquarters. Even now, those people who are able to farm cannot harvest their crops. Farmers are not immune to banditry, kidnapping and other crimes. The farms are in the bush, so it is very difficult for people (farmers) to operate.”
The farmer added that the issue has contributed heavily to the scarcity and non-availability of farm produce.
Inflation caused by disruption in food prices – Economist
An economist, Opeyemi Agbaje, said there are multiple causes of inflation. Once there are supply gaps for anything, and if for instance, there are supply gaps for food, there will be a lot of disruptions to food production, he said.
He added, “Some of these disruptions can be caused by banditry, conflicts, crime and so on. There are also economic factors, and we know that a lot of things have happened this year. The supply chain has been disrupted as some companies have shut down. Demand has fallen for various reasons. There are supply gaps.”
Agbaje also identified challenges with forex issues as a major cause of inflation in Nigeria.
“A lot of the things we use, eat and consume are imported, in terms of their raw materials or as finished goods. There is a significant cost increase due to a lot of things that have happened to the exchange rate,” he said.
The economist said since the unemployment rate has also gone up due to recession, purchasing power has drastically reduced while the cost of living has significantly gone up.
He added, “Now, we are officially in a recession, which means higher unemployment rate and higher poverty level. Those are some of the reasons why people are crying out louder. In my view, the recession may not go on for more than two quarters; the performance of the economy, even though in recession, could have been worse.
“The recession itself is not the problem; the bigger problem, however, is when we project that we will continue to have as we had in 2015, a period of low growth. Recession and low growth are similar in their impact, especially in a country where you have poverty and high level of unemployment.”
He explained that the country was in a recession in 2015/16 but when it came out in 2016/17, it never experienced a growth of above two per cent.
“For me, the problem is that we may come out of recession because oil prices may recover, cost of production may return to normal, COVID-19 lockdown, restrictions and all of that may end, but our growth may not surpass two or three per cent, which by Nigerian standard is not good enough. We need a minimum of seven to eight per cent growth for us to recover, create employment, for consumption to go up, and for people to feel optimistic about economic output,” he said.
“Recessions may persist for two or three quarters, at most four quarters, but the bigger problem is that low growth may continue. As for inflation, it will be difficult to control, until this rapid disruption in forex situation is brought under control and the disruptions to agricultural production, a chain of production and others, are brought under control. You cannot determine that; it depends on the policies.”
As his recommendation, Agbaje said the government should reform the economy and stimulate investments.
He added, “We should continue on the path of economic reforms, and the key elements of reforms that we need now are reforms to stimulate investment. We need to stimulate local investments by local investors, MSMEs, small businesses, and critically also, foreign investments. We need a significant level of investments in agriculture, infrastructure, economy, private sector, industry, and new investment by both local and foreign investors. That is the only way to stimulate the level of economic activities that will compensate for the loss of production.”
In the same vein, another economist, Ayo Teriba, described the cause of the inflation as being in two parts; one being the recent devaluation, which is best measured by the premium between the bureau de change exchange rate and interbank exchange rate. According to him, the bureau de change exchange rate reflects the reality that the man on the street is facing. In contrast, the interbank exchange rate is the alternate reality that the Central Bank of Nigeria is trying to give.
He said, “The gap between them is the measure of the extent to which the CBN is paying to meet the demand. The distance between BDC rate and the interbank rate is the removal of the Central Bank’s premium to ensure adequate forex supply; the wider that distance, the bigger the inflation because they are artificially keeping the interbank rate at where they want, but the BDC is devaluing it. The devaluation that they have allowed in the interbank rate reflects the devaluation that has occurred, so the BDC rate reflects the actual devaluation better.”
Teriba explained that whenever there is devaluation, it affects domestic prices. You don’t have to import the goods you have to sell, he said.
He explained, “We have experienced it before; this is not the first time naira will be going towards N500. The last time we experienced it in 2016 or January 2017, it went down from above N500 and then came back to N360. When it went above N500, inflation jumped, but when it went below N360, inflation declined for over 10 months. Cost-push inflation arising from devaluation is the immediate cause of the increase in prices that you are seeing.
“The second reason is the seasonal buying. This is November and people are beginning to stock up for December. Seasonal buying means that the rate at which people are trying to buy the goods is higher than the rate at which the goods are available.
“This is a year in which the world has suffered lockdown. And the lockdown might have also contributed to the recession because the trading chain seems to have been broken.
“Right now, Nigeria is out of lockdown, but Europe and America are still under lockdown. Stocks are not arriving at the same speed at which they did last year. There is reduced supply because some of the countries that we import from are in lockdown.”
He said there had been growing demand because of the festive season, and that there had also been a shortage because of lockdown and devaluation.
According to him, the combination is something we have likely not experienced before.
Teriba said the solution is to reverse the devaluation.
“When you reverse the devaluation, the prices of goods will come down. You can’t stop people from stocking up for Christmas. So, when they finish stocking up for Christmas, in the New Year, inflation will drop. There is nothing you can do that will prevent the seasonal demand in the festive period from causing inflation. Inflation picks up in November, December and in January, it drops.
“It is not the fault of Nigeria that Europe and America are in lockdown. There is nothing we can do about it. Anything the government can do to reverse the devaluation will reduce the reactionary pressure.
“There is a lockdown in China, America and Europe. This has made oil prices and the stock market to collapse, so if this shortage is because of the lockdown in some parts of Europe and America, then it calls for the government to give some palliatives to the most vulnerable people even if it is cash so that they can afford items even at higher prices.”
Security tips from experts
A security expert, Mr. Pedro Ayandokun, said the banditry affecting farmers and other Nigerians persisted because nothing had been done about it.
He said, “The Federal Government has done nothing to stop the killings by herdsmen, especially in the South-West. Governors should set up state security services like the Western Nigeria Security Network codenamed Operation Amotekun.
“Amotekun should start fully and protect farmers and farmland in the South-West. It’s time for the governors to protect land in their states.”
Another security expert, John Enwelike, said farmers should carefully vet the people they employ as labourers.
He said, “For instance, regarding the killing of Borno farmers recently, I read that some of those labourers went from as far as Kebbi State to farm in Borno. Farmers should scrutinise the people they want to employ as casual workers on their farms. It seems they don’t take these things seriously.
“Also, they should not always sleep at night when they are on the farm. They should walk around and see what’s happening there, which we call surveillance and intelligence. It is a very important security tip. And this is not just for farmers; it’s a security tip we must all employ.”