Premium Times (Abuja)

27 March 2014

Nigeria Faces Food Shortage, Government Warns

The National Economic Council, NEC, has raised alarm over imminent "shortage of food in the entire country" due to mercenary attacks in 17 states.

The NEC is chaired by the Vice President, Namadi Sambo, and made up of the 36 state governors and some ministers. The NEC's meeting of Thursday, its first since June 2013, called for urgent security measures to stem the attacks.

Governor Jonah Jang of Plateau, alongside Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom, Gabriel Suswam of Benue and the Minister of State for Works and Supervising Minister of National Planning, Bashir Yuguda, briefed journalists after the meeting.

The governors said that unless urgent steps were taken to put an end to the incessant attacks against farmers in the states, the farmers may not be able to return to their farms ahead of the farming season, which could lead to food shortage in the country.

Hundreds of people have been killed in such clashes and thousands displaced.

According to the governors, the displacement of farmers in the affected states was a matter of great concern to both the federal and state governments.

"As a matter of fact, council was quite worried about this and we feel if something is not done immediately, our farmers may not be able to work in their farms and that means shortage of food in the entire country," the governors said.

The Council mandated the Vice President to hold an urgent consultation with President Goodluck Jonathan "so that an emergency meeting will be conveyed of all the affected states so that we can find an immediate solution to the problem," Mr. Jang said.

The governor said Council also received a presentation by the National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, a retired colonel, on the incessant conflicts between farmers and pastorialists. The presentation highlighted the challenges and solutions to the conflicts in Nigeria.

"According to the NSA's presentation, 17 states have been identified as flash points, among which are Plateau, Benue, Adamawa, Niger, Bauchi, Nasarawa, Kwara, Kaduna, Oyo, Delta, Edo, Kogi, amongst others," Mr. Jang said.

The NSA reported to the Council that his office was working on organising an International Conference in Nigeria to deal with the situation. He disclosed that an international NGO in Geneva was already working with some communities in Plateau State to find ways of settling the conflicts.

The meeting was also told that apart from the pastoralists, some yet to be identified mercenaries had also invaded the affected states.

Speaking on the military style tactics employed by the mercenaries, Governor Suswam stated that some of the insurgents have been found to wear military uniforms during their operations making tracking them more difficult.

"The fact of the matter is that the insurgents now wear military uniforms. While local cattle grazers move around with cattle, these insurgents now come to town in their large numbers and in trailers loads," Mr. Suswam said.

He disclosed that a comprehensive discussion was held in the Council and the Governors of Delta and Edo states said that people came into their states in trucks without cattle.

Mr. Suswam said that some of the female members of the mercenary groups that have been arrested so far were found with AK47 assault rifles.

"Even their women carry AK 47. So, these are not the regular Fulani we are used to who are within our country. These are people moving into our country with a mission we are yet to know. But the NSA assured us that serious actions are being taken to address and contain these people who are moving into Nigeria from destinations that we do not even know," the governor said.

According to him, some of the mercenaries arrested in Kogi state were currently being drilled with a view to establishing both the source of the weapons as well as area of origin.

"The Governor of Kogi also confirmed that they had cordoned an area because these people came in four trucks. They have asked security to cordone them. It is actually a cause for concern because mercenaries have taken over. What is happening is that this is beyond the Fulanis that we know, and who are a part of us. These are different crops of people, either parading as Fulani or people who are Fulani from displaced areas because they are heavily armed. The Fulani around us here are never heavily armed," Mr. Suswam said.

Government's finance

Mr. Akpabio disclosed that the Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala had briefed the Council on the Excess Crude Account, ECA, saying that as at Thursday it stood at $3.5 billion (N577 billion) after payments for fuel subsidy and SURE-P.

He said NEC also resolved that details of spending on Excess Crude be given to states on time and also urged that expeditious action be taken to sort out all the legalities surrounding the ECA.

Speaking further on the clashes between farmers and herdsmen, the governors said the NEC asked Mr. Suswam to join an existing committee on grazing reserves under the chairmanship of Governor Murtala Nyako. The committee was already working to provide solutions to the farmers and pastorialists conflicts while Mr. Suswam would join as co- chair to hasten action on the committee's work.

"A Technical Committee would also be set up to come up with recommendations on how to manage incessant conflicts between crop farmers and pastorialists, to report within 2 weeks," the Benue governor said.

The Technical Committee is made up of the Minister of Agriculture as Chairman, as well as the Minister of Environment, the Minister of Science and Technology, the Minister of Interior, the Minister of Water Resources, the Minister of National Planning, the NSA, the DG of National Orientation Agency, NOA and representatives of states.

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