Divine Samuel, a rice farmer in Mdiogbuonye Oma Ndi, Aro-Amuro, a rural community in the Okigwe Local Government Area of Imo State in Nigeria’s southeast region, faced a harrowing incident earlier this year. While on his way to the farm, he was assaulted by armed individuals enforcing the sit-at-home order issued by a pro-Biafra secessionist group. He suffered physical harm and was left stranded by the roadside.
“As a result of that incident, I have refrained from going to my farms on sit-at-home days,” Mr. Samuel recounted to a reporter from PREMIUM TIMES who visited the area in July. He explained that these armed individuals, often armed with AK-47 rifles, would sometimes interact with locals at community drinking spots before turning violent on sit-at-home days.
Like many other farmers, Mr. Samuel noted that this reduced farming activity has negatively impacted his farm yields. He explained, “If you skip a day, the weeds can overrun the rice fields. If left unattended, these weeds can turn the entire rice crop into waste. Consistent care and weeding are essential for a successful harvest.”
He further elaborated, “For example, we sometimes cannot harvest our yams or cassava at the right time due to fear. This results in losses as the crops deteriorate. The current situation has significantly reduced my farm output compared to before the sit-at-home order started.”
Alarming Statistics: The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that approximately 25.3 million people in Nigeria will face food insecurity between June and August 2023.
Data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) in February 2023 indicated that Imo State was the second most severely affected state in the country in terms of food inflation on a year-on-year basis.
Agwu Ekwe, a professor of agricultural extension at the University of Nigeria Nsukka, emphasized, “When farmers are unable to work their fields, it affects food availability, consumption, and nutritional value, all of which are fundamental to food security.”
Insecurity and Unrest in Imo: In August 2021, the outlawed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) issued a sit-at-home order across the South-east region to pressure the Nigerian government into releasing its detained leader, Nnamdi Kanu. This order was initially implemented every Monday but later modified to align with Mr. Kanu’s court appearances.
Despite the modification, residents of the South-east, including Imo State, continued to stay indoors on Mondays, primarily out of fear. Gunmen also occasionally declared additional sit-at-home days and violently enforced compliance, attacking those who ventured out.
The situation often worsened during clashes between suspected IPOB members and Nigerian security agencies, with farmers caught in the crossfire.
Mr. Kanu distanced himself from those still enforcing the order, labeling them as criminals attempting to manipulate the secessionist group. Efforts by Governor Hope Uzodinma to curb violence by establishing the Ebubeagu Security Network inadvertently exacerbated unrest.
Amnesty International Nigeria and other human rights organizations accused Ebubeagu of extra-judicial killings under the guise of targeting IPOB members. As a result, Imo State saw a high number of deadly attacks in the first quarter of 2022, leading to food security concerns and a reluctance among farmers to work their lands during sit-at-home days.
Survival Strategies: Farmers like Charity Otti and Iweka Nwokolo in Mdiogbuonye Oma Ndi community are unable to access their distant farms during sit-at-home days. They only tend to gardens within their compounds on such occasions, employing stealthy routes to avoid gunmen.
Ugochi Udemadu in Umuaguma reported the same fear-driven behavior among her community’s farmers. She explained that people had been attacked on their farms, emphasizing that delaying harvest due to the sit-at-home orders resulted in crop spoilage.
Ikechukwu Ezediugwu in Umuduru stated that farmers had been killed in his community for disobeying the order, and the situation was particularly dire when security forces clashed with separatist fighters.
According to Lawrence Obianozie, a community leader, since the secessionist struggle intensified in 2021, farmers have been reluctant to venture to their distant fields during sit-at-home days.
Food Security Concerns: Food security has been severely affected by the crisis in Imo State. The violence has led to food scarcity and increased hunger, particularly in areas heavily dependent on agriculture. Lawrence Obianozie, a retired navy officer, emphasized that food insecurity could exacerbate unrest, as hunger often drives desperate actions.
Government Response: Cosmos Maduba, the Commissioner of Agriculture in Imo State, acknowledged that insecurity has disrupted farming activities across the South-east, which has direct implications for food security. He noted that security challenges have affected the availability of food, leading to hunger.
The state government has implemented measures to address the security situation, including offering amnesty to armed groups and providing support to farmers. Governor Uzodinma initiated a program to provide farmers with free inputs such as fertilizers, crops, and seedlings, aiming to boost food production and alleviate the impact of insecurity and fuel subsidy removal.
In summary, the sit-at-home orders and related violence have severely disrupted farming activities in Imo State, leading to food insecurity and economic hardship for many farmers. The government is taking steps to address these challenges, but the situation remains a significant concern for the region’s food security.