From Gyang Bere, Jos
It was a solemn moment for survivors of farmers/herders’ crisis in the North Central of Nigeria, as they lamented the pains, anguish and traumatic condition the crisis inflicted on residents, who are largely farmers.
The decades-long violence has claimed dozens of lives, leaving hectares of farmlands and properties destroyed. The situation constituted fear among farmers in some parts of Plateau, Nasarawa, Benue and Niger states, who abandoned their farmlands.
The victims narrated their chilling and bitter experiences during a roundtable discussion, tagged “The root cause of farmers/herders’ crisis in North-Central Nigeria,” held in Jos, Plateau State.
Most of the stakeholders and survivors of the ugly episodes, drawn among youth leaders, community leaders, Mai Angwa (district heads), community members, religious leaders, online community, academia, CSOs and members of the public were visibly sad over the development.
CHARIS Heathcare and Community Support Initiative, who staged the event, sponsored by Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung Foundation, reflected on the issues and sought solutions to the decades of violence in the geo-political zone.
A community leader, Ezekiel Bini, from Bassa Local Government Area of Plateau State, where persistent attacks have been unleashed on the Rigwe people, said the villagers were passing through trauma and mental health challenges as a result of the massive destruction of lives and properties in the area.
He noted that the people livedin perpetual fear, as dozens of persons, including women and children, have been murdered in their sleep, while properties and farmlands have been destroyed.
Bini painted the living condition of displaced women and children, who are mostly widows and orphans, as helpless and hopeless, roving round unknown destinations to seek for refuge.
The situation is not different in Nasarawa, Niger and Benue states, where farmers are displaced and cattle rustled, leaving the victim-villagers helpless.
Henry Ajine Ojenya, a clinical psychologist and programme manager, CHARIS Healthcare and Community Support Initiative, who delivered a paper on “Crisis in North Central Nigeria: Implications on peace, security and mental health,” stated that crop destruction/grazing in farmlands, cattle rustling and reprisal attacks have prolonged the farmer/herder crisis in the area.
He said: “The psychological effects of the crisis may manifest as emotional exhaustion, stress, anxiety, psychological distress, trauma, phobia, nightmare and depression on farmers and their agriculture loss.”
He explained that, after a disaster occurs, the immediate intervention should be the rebuilding of infrastructure and lives of victims to create a common ground with a view to halt any form of recurrence.
Ojenya said CHARIS Healthcare specialised in supporting individuals, families and communities in distress through evidence-based psychosocial care and support, achieving immediate and lasting change.
Aishatu Yusha’u Armiya’u, associate professor of psychiatry, Department of Psychiatry, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University, Bauchi, lamented that tension, confrontation and a series of deadly battles between stationary farmers and nomadic Fulani herders have grown in Nigeria over the previous two decades.
She noted that the violence was broad, recurrent and persistent, with incidents reported in each of the country’s six geo-political zones.
Armiya’u said: “The North Central zone in particular, as a transition zone between the northern and southern parts of the country, is mired in a cycle of violent attacks of farming communities, which exacerbated the farmers-herders’ conflict to crisis proportions.
“The problem has taken on a life of it own, posing a serious threat to agricultural activities and food crops and cattle, and widespread community relocation, while many human lives have been lost and distrust between farming communities and Fulani herders has grown.”
Armiya’u, who is also a consultant forensic psychiatrist at the Jos University Teaching Hospital (JUTH), identified ethnic profiling as a factor responsible for incessant crises in the country. She urged Nigerians to desist from ethic profiling as an antidote to the incessant farmers/herders crises and enhance unity.
Mrs. Angela Odah, programme manager, Rosa Luxemburg foundation (RLS), advised government to be more proactive towards addressing the security situation in Nigeria for posterity, in line with its core mandate.
Odah also called on citizens to take responsibility in fostering peace, saying that government alone could not address the security challenges facing the country.
A research on the root cause of farmers-herders’ crises in North Central by Dr. Plangshak Musa Suchi and Dr. Sallek Yaks Musa formed the basis for the roundtable discussion. It revealed that the immediate causes of the crisis revolved around issues of deliberate destruction of food crops by Fulani herders and cattle rustling by bandits.
It further noted that the farming communities considered most of the crop destructions as acts of mischief on the part of the herders, the Fulani largely blamed it on the blocking of grazing routes and in some cases lack of adequate grazing areas.
The research recommended that traditional rulers and community leaders should be vanguards of peaceful co-existence within their domains by reducing the divisions that now characterise human groupings within their domains.