Don alerts to growing threat of agro-terrorism to national security



Imported foods susceptible to tampering by terrorists
Experts have alerted on the growing threat of the use of biological, chemical or radiological agents against some component of agriculture in such a way to adversely impact the agricultural industry and cause mass destruction and deaths.

A professor of botany at the University of Lagos, Oluwatoyin Ogundipe, in a recent study titled “Agro-terrorism and Biological Crimes: Threats To National Security and Sustainable Development” warned that there is potential use of agro-terrorism in Nigeria, which is malicious use of plant or animal pathogens to cause disease in the agriculture sector.

Agro-terrorism, a subset of bioterrorism, is defined as the deliberate introduction of animal or plant pests with the goal of generating fear, causing economic damage, and or undermining social stability.

Ogundipe said potential targets are animals, plants and crops, animals pharmaceutical drugs, water supplies, farm workers, food processors, food handlers restaurants, food warehouse and grain producers and stores.

He said contaminated food could be through cultivation of infected plants, imported food including fish, vegetables, fruits and uninspected and susceptible to tampering by terrorists utilizing bio-weapons.

The Professor of Botany said the potential of threat from terrorists, criminals and other anti-social groups against agricultural food supply is increasingly recognized as a national security threat, yet preparedness measures are scanty and are often overlooked.

He said although there are relatively few cases of agro-terrorism recently, but with current upsurge in terrorism, it is imperative to study these few incidents to better understand the modus operandi and motivations that different actors may have for using biological agents against the agricultural sector, and also to develop and effective countermeasures and strategies.

Ogundipe said throughout recorded history, civilian food supplies have often been targeted for sabotage. For example, in 1984, members of a religious cult contaminated salad bars in the United States of America with Salmonella typhimurium, causing 751 cases of salmonellosis. The attack was a trial run for a more extensive attack intended to disrupt local elections. The cult was also in possession of strains of Salmonella typhi, which causes typhoid fever, a severe invasive illness.

Ogundipe said Nigeria as the most populous nation within the sub-Saharan African region, with excess of 150 million people is more susceptible to crisis from any outbreaks arising from in international food supply system and international food crisis and insecurity, caused either by natural factor or manmade.

The botanist said a typical example is that of the present Islamic sect of northern Nigeria, BokoHaram. According to media reports, “On October 21, 2015 the Nigeria military announced that BokoHaram terrorists have resorted to poisoning water sources like wells and streams in the areas after being dislodged by the soldiers.

“According to the army, the latest act was the poisoning of the cattle water ponds in Kangallam village along Marte and Abadam axis in Borno State, where a large number of cattle died after drinking water from the ponds.”

If such livestock are transported as far as Maiduguri, down to some major cities of Nigeria and sold to the teeming population, what would have been the outcome?

Another unconfirmed report through radio Dandalkuura, a local radio based station broadcast in Kanuri and Hausa domiciled in Maiduguri reported in 2015 that BokoHaram attempted to hijack trucks conveying oranges and other fruits from Benue to Maiduguri and the neighbouring countries, so as to poison it. But the vigilante group, popularly called the Civilian JTF, later foiled this attempt.

If such attacks were not foiled, what would have being the fate of Nigerians on agricultural produces and its confidence on the economy? However, it can be seen that we are at risk of terrorist attacks on our food chains; it will be justifiable to spend resources to deal with this risk. “

Ogundipe said combating agro-terrorism entails the usual appeals for alertness by the citizens and the officials, control of borders and resident aliens better coordination among law enforcement and intelligent gathering agencies, and an end to senseless policies that invite terrorism” he said.

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