The south of Nigeria mostly depends on the north for its food, but the farmers-herders crisis is driving a wedge through that business relationship.
Alhaji Bello, a peripatetic salesman who hawks beef around Surulere, Lagos, has been forced out of business for well over a week now.
“Meat is so expensive now,” he tells Pulse, his blackened hands quickly shoved into his blood stained trousers. “In fact, we don’t even see the meat to buy anymore.”
In the last couple of weeks, suspected hoodlums and brigands in the northern region have been impounding food trucks making their way down Nigeria’s south in what has been labelled a reprisal move, as ethnic tension stemming from a recurring farmers-herders crisis engulfs Africa’s most population.
Some northern elements have vowed to punish and economically sabotage the south by starving the region of food items, after open grazing of cattle was outlawed by powerful state governors in the southwest and after violence erupted in Oyo and Ondo states; as indigent settlers and Hausas clashed over open grazing and destroyed farmlands.
Trucks laden with cows and perishable items like onions, pepper and tomatoes are now getting impounded along the Ilorin-Jebba expressway and around the Kwara, Benue borders, with the drivers handed marching orders to head back north.
Sometimes, these food trucks are looted or burnt for effect, our correspondents have reported.
The consequence is that Lagos, which is Nigeria’s most populous city with its numerous mouths to feed, is running out of beef, tomatoes, pepper, garlic, ginger, onions and other vegetables.
Empty tables and stalls
Pulse has been visiting different markets across Cele, Surulere, Ijesha, Isolo, Gbagada, Mushin, Ikeja and the cow markets in Oke Afa and Cele.
The abattoirs are empty and the vegetable stalls are begging to be restocked.
“No meat to buy. The abattoir where we buy meat has no meat. They have not received any purchase in the last week. I bought some meat on Saturday, but it was difficult to sell,” Wale, a beef seller at Cele, says.
Tomatoes are displayed in baskets for sale at a local food market in Lagos December 16, 2013. REUTERS/Akintunde Akinleye
Sikiru, another beef trader at Cele, wears a forlorn look when he says; “I have not sold meat since Friday. There is meat to buy sometimes, but it’s too expensive. I’m waiting out a bit to see what will happen this week.”
Bayo Ado who runs a store at the Cele abattoir says: “I managed to get my lorries from the north just before the strike happened. Now because of the scarcity, the meat is expensive. Because I have customers who are ready to pay more than the usual amount to get the product. It will be tough for us in the next one month.”
At the Isolo market, only one meat seller from the meat line at the market was available on Monday, March 1, 2021.
There are more empty tables at the meat line inside the Isolo market, with customers making a beeline for the chicken and turkey stalls instead.
A beef trader called Baba says he hasn’t bothered to go to the market this week because there is just no point.
At the Oke Afa cow and goat market, the story is very much the same: no meat to sell. Buyers milling around in hope and expectation like they have done in the last fortnight.
One beef trader at Oke Afa says his four lorries of cows, goats and rams are currently stranded in Sokoto. And he doesn’t know when he will receive them.
“I speak to my drivers every day and they said they have not been allowed to leave,” he offers dejectedly.
Lagos Governor Sanwo-olu at the Bariga market, January 10, 2020 (Gboyega Akosile)
Across markets in Oyingbo, Surulere, Ikeja, Ogba and Oshodi, the prices of tomatoes, pepper and onions have hit the roof as demand outstrips supply.
The food shortage in Lagos is hitting several households hard and making life even more difficult for residents hard hit by coronavirus-induced lockdowns and an asphyxiating economy.
In steps the jackboots
However, it looks as though the end of the food blockade from the north may be in sight. Prince Ibrahim Adebara who is the son of the traditional ruler of Jebba, says soldiers are being deployed to the roads to chase the hoodlums away and remove the barricades.
The Defence Headquarters has also confirmed in a statement issued by Acting Director of Defence Information, Brigadier-General Onyema Ugochukwu, that it is doing something about the situation.
The statement says soldiers are clearing the Jebba-Kaduna road and chasing away the youths who have been preventing trucks from heading south.
“This is also to give a stern warning to any unscrupulous group or persons who are aiming at disrupting legitimate economic and commercial activities by preventing the free flow of traffic and movement of goods in a bid to generate clashes along ethnic divides to desist from such unpatriotic acts or face the wrath of the law.
“Members of the public are also urged to promptly report anyone found engaged in such atrocious activities to security operatives,” the statement from Defence Headquarters reads.
For the moment in Lagos, most residents are ditching stews and rice for soups and ‘swallows.’
And Alhaji Bello has now swapped the beef business for shoe making. “How man go do?” he asks with a wry smile, a set of Kolanut-stained teeth obstructing the Lagos sunshine.