By Bayo Fasunwon
Protest is one of the recognized and legitimate means of political participation, especially in a democratic political system. The convocation of rallies, hunger strikes, public speeches, marching on the streets, political mobilisation, or protesters, and marching through the streets with placards are acceptable forms of protest. Protests are often embarked upon to shift government’s attention to the agitations, needs, and discontentment.
While many protests do lead to violence (especially due to the overzealousness of peace maintainers), many are void of the likeness of violence. The seemingly most peaceful form of protest is boycott. This is when the aggrieved party refuses to attend a program or carry out responsibilities in order to make grievances weighty and known. It is within this context one would like to categorise the decisions of the Onion Sellers Association to boycott the Southern part of the country in their supply and sales of the nutritional bulb, otherwise called onions.
The association, citing insecurity of their goods, lives and trucks have decided that they would not supply their products to the Southern part of the country until their demand for justice, protection and assurance of safety were met. While many had castigated and lampooned them as being irrational in their decision, they had rather opted for the sanctity of their lives first, financial gain second, and the freedom of movement across Nigeria. The critics had gone further to give ethnic coloration to the call for the respect of the fundamental human rights of the feeders of the nation. On the other hand, the critics have used the lens of the halted Northern food blockade against the Southern states of Nigeria in the time past. Beyond that, the elders have submitted that once a quarrel exists, every song becomes a proverb.
However, while observing this food politics, certain truths have begun to emerge. In the first place, the Onion Sellers are re-echoing the voice of those involved in agriculture in the country. With their boycotts, they have also called the attention of government to the fact that a siege is being laid against the production and distribution of food in Nigeria. While the farmers are lamenting the takeover of their farmlands by bandits and killer herdsmen, the latter are also complaining of a systemic poaching of their animals, In other words, farm production in whatever form has become an insecure venture in Nigeria. The events have made us to realize that no one is safe in an environment of thriving banditry and gruesome murders. Therefore, the continued existence of bandits, in any part of the country, remains a threat to any other and every other part of the country. When insecurity therefore persists, food blockades would arise, giving room to hunger, diseases, and death.
The onion sales boycott has also sent a signal to all seeking for secession from Lord Lugard’s ‘marriage of convenience’. The signal is that if the dream becomes a reality, all the newly created and emergent countries in the Southern part of the country would have to include onions in their foreign trade. Thus, while onions would become foreign exchange earners, and possibly, at a high price, for the newly formulated northern country, it may become a commodity that southern countries would have to pay subsidies for in order for the citizens to have a good taste of such in their meals or Suyas. What goes for onions also dictates for other food items that come mainly from the Northern part of the country. Since Oil and Gas may not become a foreign earner for the Northern peoples, one can be sure that foodstuffs may be the bargaining strength of an emerging nation state in the Bayajidda Empire. Therefore, the onion boycott is sending signals to the Nigeria masses that unity in diversity is cheaper and less cumbersome than protesting and seeking for diversified sovereignty from the current Nigeria framework.
The food blockade from the North, which unveils the onion sellers’ strike as the Season 2 of the Epic movie may be interpreted by conspiracy theorists as a test for the success of the clandestine strategy, aimed at starving the South into submission. They would have opined that the attacks of killer herdsmen, and the destruction of farms and farmers were clandestine and well-calculated efforts targeted at the food baskets of the South. From this point of view, the order given for the clearance of passageways for cows into the South may also be interpreted as an agenda for destroying the productive capacities of the south, and efforts towards food production. With the closure of the borders, the sacking of farm villages and trepidation inflicted on farmers, the theory seems believable, though absurd.
Whichever way it goes, the onion blockade is a parable that seeks to prepare the South for the drought that is to come. It is like the dream of Pharaoh that foretold of seven years of plenty, and seven years of famine. It is a wakeup call. Nature has blessed the South with all the climate and terrain to cultivate and produce the food needed by the country and even the exports. The various uncultivated lands have become the desire of Pastoralists in search of good pastures. The onus is on the various State Governments in the South to embrace the Israel model, engage more people in mechanical farming, and so produce the variety of crops for their needs. The South must wake to reality that food deprivation is a war strategy, and Nigeria is a nation at war with itself. While the Southern efforts have been geared towards the production of cash crops, it is time to train and engage the youths in food crop production. With research centers in IITA, FUNAAB, Markurdi, and Ondo State amongst others, it is high time the South leverages on insights and develop their food pyramid as Joseph did in Egypt.
The parable of the Onion suggests that it is neither a laughable event nor a slight of a people in the Southern hemisphere. Rather it is a revelation, and an invitation to prepare for the inevitable. The time is now for food sufficiency by the various geopolitical zones. Heeding to this parable will not only save the zones, but the country and the people from an imminent doom. In simple terms, the South Governors should secure the lands, encourage their youths towards farming; empower the farmers, and protect their storehouses from the locusts and the cankerworms. The parable of the Onions is a window of opportunity, it must not slip away.