The Pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, its South-East counterpart, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the Pan-Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, among others, yesterday, condemned stoppage of the supply of foodstuffs and cattle to the south from the north by the Amalgamated Union of Foodstuffs and cattle Dealers of Nigeria.
But Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, advised the Federal Government to address the complaints of the union which had called for payment of compensation of N4.75 billion to its members, being losses incurred during the #EndSARS’ protest and razing of their properties at Shasha market in Oyo State.
It, however, noted that though the union had a point to prove, they were going about it the wrong way, while the Northern Elders Forum, NEF, said it would intervene in the matter, only if it was sure the lives and properties of northern traders would be protected in the south.
This came as the Department of State Service, DSS, also, yesterday, invited leadership of the union for questioning.
There had been scarcity of meat and other food items in markets in the south in the past one week, triggering a hike in the price of the few available.
At press time yesterday, President of the union, Comrade Muhamad Tahir, was still being quizzed by the DSS.
General Secretary of the union, Ahmed Alaramma, told newsmen at a briefing at Labour House, Abuja, yesterday: “As I speak with you, our president is with the DSS, he is being questioned at the DSS headquarters.”
Alaramma, who noted that the union is kicking against alleged suppression of their members and task force put in place to enforce the strike on the major roads, said from the report received on the strike, their task force was being intimidated by the Army.
He added that they were surprised by this development, saying they wrote to all the security agencies, including the Army as well as the Presidency, before commencement of the strike.
“We reject what the Nigerian Army has done to our task force. We assure our members across the country that our strike goes on. We will never give up,” he said.
He regretted that the Federal Government has not invited them for negotiation, but noted that the Kogi State government invited them.
Alaramma also spoke of multiple taxation of their members and extortion by security agencies, the Army, Police, and hoodlums on the major roads in the south.
He said before a truckload of cows from Adamawa gets to its destination in the South-West, South-East or South-South, the owner would have spent about N250,000 on extortion.
It will be recalled that while declaring intention to go on strike, the union had claimed it lost 151 of its members during the recent Shasha crisis in Ibadan, Oyo State, while properties of their members were destroyed, including 100 trucks.
To this end, it demanded N4.75 billion as compensation, both for the loss of lives and property destroyed.
“Despite our several complaints, and engagements with the Presidency, security agencies and other relevant ministries regulating our operation as contained in our three weeks ultimatum issued on November 7, 2020, our members have continued to suffer intimidation, frustration, humiliation, destruction of their goods and carnage.
“You may recall that during the #EndSARS protest, our members were killed and their properties destroyed. We have demanded compensation for lives and properties lost by our members.
“We have also written to various security agencies of Nigeria on the issue of multiple taxation that is hampering the activities of our members by mounting illegal road blocks at unavoidable and strategic location on federal highway and demand for the payment of illegitimate tax,’’ the union had stated.
Reacting to the development yesterday, the pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, faulted the move, saying the blockade was done by blockheads.
Afenifere’s National Publicity Secretary, Yinka Odumakin said: “It is a blockade done by blockheads whose brains cannot understand what will happen to them if the South decides to shut them off essentials from this area.”
On its part, the Yoruba Council of Elders, YCE, said the blockade was a wake-up call to the south.
Former National Chairman of YCE, Dansaaki Samuel Agbede, said: “I want to congratulate the northerners for taking that action because they will wake us up from our slumber.
“Let them take back their foodstuffs and eat it. There shouldn’t be any quarrel about it. But the herders should stop grazing their cattle on our farmlands because it’s their cattle that eat our fresh maize and cassava.”
In its reaction, the Agbekoya Farmers’ Society described the blockade as a cold war against the South-West, noting that Nigeria is in crisis and on the brink of a collapse.
Agbekoya’s National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Olatunji Bandele, said: “This is practically a cold war against the South-West. When you block the transportation of food items to a particular set of people, you have declared war on such people.
“We don’t have to deceive ourselves again, Nigeria is in crisis and on the brink of collapse. The northerners are ready to overrun the South because they believe they are the owners of Nigeria.
“Now, talking about the food blockage to the South, the South and the South-West governors should have a rethink about how to revamp our farmlands, which the criminal herdsmen and their cattle have destroyed and find ways to resettle the South-West farmers who have been displaced from their villages and farms in the last few years.
“Secondly, South-West governors and our leaders must come together and brainstorm on a grand plan for commercial, mechanized farming and agricultural policy that is farmers-oriented, instead of playing politics with agriculture.
“This is where Agbekoya Farmers Association will be much needed because we have over 20,000 hectares of farmland all over the South-West that can be used for cluster farming for easy mechanization but our governors are not ready to assist Agbekoya farmers with funds, agricultural inputs and fertilizers.
“The Northerners and their leaders have been preparing for this war a long time ago, first they have been assisting their farmers financially, and also making sure they have access to agricultural inputs and fertilizer but South-West governors and our leaders are busy playing selfish politics, instead of helping South-West farmers directly.
“The Federal Government has been playing politics with agriculture since inception of this administration by abandoning cassava farmers in the South-West and favoured northern rice farmers with huge investment in rice farming and rice mills.
“This is the time for the South-West governors and our leaders to wake up and face the reality of food security in South-West.”
Reacting in a similar manner, Ohanaeze Ndigbo described as “strange” the decision of northern food dealers to stop supplies to the South.
Publicity Secretary of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Alex Ogbonnia, said: “This is strange. Instead of addressing the complaints from across the country about herders’ destruction of farm lands, they are now threatening to block food supply. It is, indeed, strange and a call for us to look inwards, and be more creative.
“In any case, these goods are perishables. They will suffer more, not the south. There is no food item in the North that cannot grow here in the south.
“We will just look inwards; all food items can be grown here. There is nothing wrong with Efi Igbo (Igbo cows) and other cattle can be reared here.”
Also reacting yesterday, the Pan-Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, said the Niger Delta would stop the flow of oil and gas to the northern part of the country, if the north continued to hold on to transportation of food to the southern part of the country.
National Publicity Secretary of PANDEF, Ken Robinson, stated in Port Harcourt that northerners stopping food supplies to the south will spell doom for the nation.
He said: “What this means is that those foodstuffs the south gets from the north will be scarce. Good enough, no section of the country has monopoly of everything. What that means is that no section has everything and other sections don’t have anything to depend on.
“Perhaps this is their own way of clamouring for restructuring and telling others “to your tent oh Israel!”
“The ramification of what they are doing, if they continue, is to tell us to also stop the flow of oil and gas from the south to the north.
“If the government does not act promptly and continue to handle this issues with kid gloves, as it is handling the issue of killer herdsmen, it will spell room for the country.
“We have always said if Nigeria fails to restructure, the country will restructure itself, perhaps this is the beginning of that narrative.”
In his reaction, National Publicity Secretary of ACF, Mr.Emmanuel Yawe, said: “From our understanding, this is not a blockade. The union is reacting to extortion from security agencies and all kinds of organizations on the highways.
“They also complain of insecurity to life and property. Some of their members were killed and their properties destroyed during the #EndSARS protests and current wave of anti-north phobia.
“Their grouse is that neither the states or federal government compensated them. We believe they have a point but are going about it the wrong way. There should be free flow of trade, otherwise the problems we are going through now in the country will be compounded.
“We urge the governments, both states and federal, to engage the unions and come out with a solution.”
Also reacting, Director of Publicity and Advocacy, Northern Elders Forum, NEF, Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, described the movement of foodstuff and cattle to the south as vital but stressed that the Forum will not, under any guise, abandon northerners to the lawlessness of fellow citizens.
He lamented the attacks on northerners and expressed dismay over the failure of the authorities to put an end to the insecurity which is dovetailing into a food crisis, especially for southerners.
He said: “The Northern Elders Forum has been in touch with the union in the last few days and understands their grievances.
“The movement of goods and services is vital, but it is threatened to the degree of insecurity of those involved in the activity.
“The whole nation knows that northerners and northern interests have been attacked, harassed and intimidated in the last few weeks without any provocations. Drivers and others conveying goods worth hundreds of millions have been attacked, looted or destroyed.
“We will not abandon northerners to these situations any more than we will encourage the same treatment for non-northerners.
“The Forum is keeping a close eye on developments. The nation should know that producers, transporters and distributors from the north are losing millions in this strike which has been forced on them by those who have no respect for the law and security of fellow citizens and the country.
“We will advise the union as appropriate, but our involvement will be contingent on evidence that northerners will be safe as they travel the length and breadth of Nigeria to engage in lawful economic activities.”