Recent acceleration in multidimensional manifestation of the unscrupulous elements masquerading as Boko Haram, bandits, killer herdsmen among others in Nigeria has raised concern on the possibility of terrorists using pathogens to attack agricultural target. This perhaps is inevitable considering the increase in the threat of biological warfare from the superpowers in their egoistic struggle for supremacy on the global stage.
While addressing the grouping of colleagues from post Soviet Union Republics on 8th November, 2023, the Russian Security Council Secretary, Nikolai Patrushev said that the natural consequence of the United States and it’s allies’ destructive policies is the deterioration in the global security, and are increasing the risk that nuclear, chemical and biological weapons would be used. Though, he gave no specific details of where the weapons might be used or who would use it, but the security situation in Nigeria and the hardship experienced during COVID-19 shows that such warning must not be taken for granted.
Prior to COVID-19 pandemic, Nigeria has witnessed natural biological incidents that resulted in famine and other unpalatable phenomena. For instance, the outbreak of desert locust (Schistocerca gregaria) swarm between 2003-2004 caused significant crop losses in the North West of Nigeria as well as most of the countries in West Africa to the extend that the then Senegalese President, Abdoulaye Wade had to launched an appeal for planes, pick-up trucks, radio, protective clothing and spraying equipment to step up locust control campaign.
The same was the experience when the incident of avian flue epidemic spread from the index case on a farm in Kaduna State to 25 States within months in 2006 and its resurgence in 2008.
Similar thing would have happened in 2013 if Ebola was not quickly detected and addressed. This might be worst in the case of a deliberate release of viruses, bacteria, toxins or other harmful agents to cause illness or death in animals, humans or harms to plant putting into consideration the “nature and character of Nigerian state”.
Nigeria is a complex country amalgamated by Fredrick Lord Lugard in 1914, gained independence in 1960 but continue to experience different forms of challenges that snowballed to civil war between 1967-70 and continue to drive ethnic/religious configuration, coloration and crisis in the struggle for authoritative allocation of values and power.
The ethnic/religious cards contributed to the failure of the government to quickly deal with the Boko Haram issue at infancy in 2009 and continue to fuel its expansion. Through the activities of the sect more than 35, 000 people have loss their lives while over 2 million have been displaced.
With greater access to cheap but powerful biotechnology tools that needs little or no expertise to operate, it’s obvious that the terrorist groups might resort to manufacturing dangerous pathogens or modifying easily accessible ones to make them more suitable for agro-terrorism in order to further wreck havocs on the people through food scarcity and crisis.
Agro-terrorism is a subset of bioterrorism that has to do with a deliberate introduction of detrimental agents, biological and otherwise, into the agricultural and food processing system with the intent of causing actual or perceived harm in order to intimidate or coerce a government or civilian population to further political or social objectives. The damage from this attack especially, when it’s zoonotic in nature can cause widespread illness and death, instill fear and panic, cause food scarcity/crisis on a global scale among others.
For instance, more than 3500 horses were sickened during world war I when the German agents in the United States infected the horses and cattle in transit across the Atlantic to France with anthrax and glanders before they were shipped from U.S. ports to Britain and France, making them unfit for wartime service by the time they arrived Europe.
The same was the experience when a religious cult intentionally contaminated 10 restaurant salad bars with Salmonella, sickening more than 750 people in an attempt to influence the outcome of a local election at Dalles, Oregon, United States in 1994.
In 1952, a nationalist movement known as Mau Mau also poisoned 33 cattle at a British mission station using a local toxic plant called “African milk bush” in Kenya. While a group of Tamil separatists threatened to spread non-endemic plant disease among rubber and tea plantation in a scheme to undermine the government in the early 1980s.
Although, there have not been a report(s) of agro-terrorism in Nigeria, however, putting into consideration the security and economic ties Nigeria has with the United States and many countries in the West, it will be suicidal to underestimate what the local terrorists like Boko Haram, bandits, killer herdsmen, and Islamic state in West Africa (ISWAP) can do with such tool at their disposal since the terrorists groups work in close network.
The United States is the largest foreign investor in Nigeria. The trade in goods between the countries totaled over $8.1 billion in 2022, making Nigeria the second largest U.S. export destination in Sub-Saharan Africa. U.S. exports to Nigeria include vehicles, wheat, machinery, fuels, and plastics. While Nigerian exports to the United States include crude oil, cocoa, cashew nuts, and animal feed. Contamination of the goods with pathogens will certainly have grave impact on both countries.
The ‘anthrax letter ‘ attack in New York in 2001 led to the rolling out of $320 million in order to deep clear the building involved. Similarly, the outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) in the UK in 2001 cost the country $21 billion while the dioxin contaminated animal feed in Netherland in 2006 cost the country $ 1 billion.
The chestnut blight occasioned by the cultivation of Japanese chestnut trees in the united states in 1904, virtually eliminated American Chestnut as canopy spaces in more than 8.8 million acres in 50 years despite the fact that it was not intentional.
That is why it’s necessary to create more awareness on the damage an agro-terrorism can cause in or cost Nigeria, invest in researches that can lead to the development of mobile devices that can quickly detect and differentiate natural biological incident from the terroristic act, create national and regional counter agro-terrorism squads so that Nigeria can be strongly immune to resist any biological attack from the terrorists or discharge by the super powers in their quest for supremacy on the global stage.