Tunde Omolehin (Sokoto), Linus Oota (Lafia), Mohammed Munirat Nasir (Gusau), Noah Ebije (Kaduna), and Gyang Bere (Jos)
As states in the Northwest and North-central geopolitical zones of the country grapple with the rising challenge of armed banditry, kidnapping and herdsmen attacks, farmers in the states have alerted of imminent famine.
The armed criminal elements are known to rustle cattle, rape women and kill unarmed men seen in the farms. Those that are not killed outright are abducted for ransom.
This action has instilled great fears in farmers, causing them to abandon their farms.
Sunday Sun investigations in the affected states showed that scarcity of food would be the end product of what is happening in them now.
In this report, we present the situation in the states that are at the epicenter of banditry, kidnapping and herdsmen attacks, which have unsettled their people mostly in the farming communities.
It is said that every time the United States economy sneezes, the global economy catches cold. In some sense, this has been the lot of Sokoto State ever since banditry in Zamfara State began to increase in scope. This produced spill-over effects in Sokoto, which is a neighbour to the epicenter of the trouble.
The result is that the criminal activities of bandits and kidnappers in Zamfara have caused a geometric rise in insecurity in Sokoto, which used to be one of the crime-free states in the federation owing to its age-long serene nature. In the heat of the Boko Haram insurgency that convulsed some states in the core North, Sokoto, proudly known as the Seat of the Caliphate, remained one of the few states in the Northwest that could not be infiltrated.
But all that changed with the rise of banditry and cattle rustling in Katsina and Zamfara. Created in 1975, Sokoto shares borders with Niger Republic to the North, Zamfara State to the East, Kebbi State to the Southeast and Benin Republic to the West.
The latest attack on Sokoto State was carried out on May 7, when gunmen stormed Balle community in Gudu Local Government Area of the state and shot the traditional ruler, Aliyu Ibrahim, dead and also burnt down the police station in the community. Balle, which is the headquarters of Gudu LGA was in 1804 the capital of the caliphate. It is located on the border with Niger Republic.
Many residents attributed the killing to vengeance as the traditional leader was said to have reported the activities of the bandits to security agencies. Before the Balle attack, similar attack was recorded at Bafarawa town in Isa LGA, a border community close to Niger Republic. A security guard of the former governor was killed in the attack while one person was abducted. No less affected are the people of Kamarawa village in the LGA, who have been experiencing killing, kidnapping and burning of their property.
Early this year, there were series of attacks carried out in towns and villages across the state, mainly those that share borders with Zamfara State. It could be recalled that 17 persons were killed at Daliga, Rakkoni and Kalhu communities, another 26 people killed in three communities of Warwanna, Kursa and Dutse of Gandi district, all in Rabah LGA of the state. The council has continued to be under bandit attacks, which have so far claimed many lives and property.
One the survivors of the attacks, Isah Nasiru, a farmer and member of the vigilance group from Warwanna village said that the lack of security personnel in the community made them vulnerable to banditry.
Nasiru who lost a child and some other relatives in the series of attacks launched on the community explained: “They started the attack from Dutsi and then moved to Kursa. They came through three different sides of our village and surrounded us; if you tried to escape they would shoot you while those that did not run were left alone.
“Those they met on their farms working were either shot dead or killed with cutlasses. Most of the bandits have often been seen coming into the village to buy foodstuff, petrol and recharge cards before they were barred from the village.
“We noticed their evil antecedents and we stopped them from buying anything in our village. Maybe that is the only problem we have with them. We equally reported them to the government and they sent some policemen, but the police never acted on the intelligence report we gave to them, which prompted us to form a vigilante group.”
He, however, appealed to the government to reinforce security personnel in the area, insisting that the bandits usually come through three areas that lead to Maradun in Zamfara State, Goronyo and Isa LGAs of Sokoto State.
There is apprehension in farming communities in Nasarawa State as suspected armed Fulani herdsmen are having a field day attacking and abducting farmers who venture out to their farms.
Often, family members of victims go through traumatic experience while some even lose their lives in the process of meeting the tough demands of the kidnappers. The psychological effect of the experience is enormous on the victims, who most times live in fear, anxiety and above all loss of trust in people which might likely lead to depression.
The upsurge in kidnapping, especially in most parts of Nasarawa State is threatening agricultural activities and other commercial transactions, which have forced farmers to abandon their farms for fear of being kidnapped.
Between January and May this year, scores of innocent farmers have been kidnapped, while others were killed on their way to their farms. The nefarious activities of the armed Fulani herdsmen marauding in the area is stoking the fire of unprecedented food crisis in the state particularly and the nation in general if not promptly nipped in the bud.
From every indication, kidnapping has become a booming venture in the state and other parts of the country.
Keen observers have been quick to lay the blame on security lapses, lack of basic amenities, unemployment, corruption, flagrant flaunting of wealth by the rich and most importantly, lack of transparency and accountability of stewardship by public office holders.
A legal practitioner in the state, Mohammed Hamisu, said that lack of political will on the part of the government to implement capital punishment as enshrined in the constitution is also a strong contributing factor to the upsurge of kidnapping, noting that legally; kidnapping attracts life sentence or jail term of between 10 and 30 years for the convicted person.
Recently in Toto Local Government Area of Nasarawa State, gunmen abducted two young men, Nasiru and Bashir, as well as a driver who were heading for their farms. Also, on May 14, 2019, a staff of Toto LGA, Mr Mohammed Shuaibu, was gruesomely murdered and his wife, Mallama Zainab Salihu, kidnapped. The abductors demanded N2 million. Again, on May 18, five farmers Basaru Rukaiya, Aishat Zakari, Chinedu Ide, Reuben Ibrahim and Vivian Ibrahim were kidnapped in Yelwa area of the state at gunpoint while going to their farms. Their whereabouts are still not known till date.
Expectedly, concerns over the implication of the situation continue to grow in the state. A commercial farmer in Nasarawa Local Government Area, Ibrahim Mustapha, while noting that agriculture is the mainstay of the state economy, given the absence of industries, said that the citizenry rely on the cultivation of grains, vegetable and other agricultural produce from the state to meet their needs. He said that even as the rains set in, he had to shut down his entire farm because of fear of being kidnapped. He added that farming in most parts of the state has become big risk business.
He explained that most of his friends who run irrigated farms in the size of 200 to 300 hectares of land have equally shut down. The unfortunate outcome is that there would be scarcity of food by next year.
He said that 65 per cent of farmers in the western and northern parts of the state today cannot go to their farms for fear of being kidnapped as armed Fulani herdsmen and other bandits rampage through the state.
His words: “Many farmers cannot access their farms, so there will be scarcity of food in Nasarawa State. If the security agencies do not step in, there will not be much farming activities in major parts of the state and the result is imminent food shortage by the end of the year. Many farmers are afraid to go to their farms, some cannot even travel on the Toto-Nasarawa road now, the activities of kidnappers and other armed bandits have left them scared.”
In a chat with Sunday Sun, the Commissioner of Police, Nasarawa State Command, CP Bola Longe, expressed concern over the rising incidence of armed banditry and kidnapping in the state.
In compliance with the directive of the Inspector General of Police Mohammed Adamu who is an indigene of the state, the command launched “Operation Puff Adder,” a special security initiative to confront and root out kidnapping and armed banditry in the state.
Operation Puff Adder is aimed at re-dominating and reclaiming the public space from heinous criminal elements that are bent on threatening the nation’s internal security order.
Longe noted that the Nasarawa Police Command is committed to vigorously conducting an unstoppable onslaught against the criminal elements in the state.
Already, men of the command have arrested 14 suspected kidnappers that had been terrorizing people in the Mararaba-Udege axis of the state.
The incoming governor of the state, Abdullahi Sule, an engineer, told Sunday Sun in an exclusive interview that he is equally having sleepless nights over the insecurity caused by armed banditry and kidnapping in the state, adding that he has already developed a template on how to tackle it as soon as he is sworn-in on May 29.
He said that Nasarawa, Akwanga, Obi, Keana, Toto, Doma and Awe LGAs are major areas dealing with security challenges.
Sule assured that he would deploy robust industrialization programme that would create employment for the youths.
His words: “One of the biggest challenges is the situation of the youths. So, I intend to provide employment for the youths through my industrialization policy, which will take most of the youths off the streets. By the time you provide industrialization in the state and also engage the local communities into commercial farming, by the time you develop the out-growers system because the state is an agro-allied one, and apart from working very close with the security agencies in partnership with the local communities, the preventive measures restore the security of the citizens.”
The slogan of Zamfara State is “Farming is Our Pride,” but in the last few years, farming which is the main occupation of the people is rapidly turning into a risky venture as bandits who are terrorising the state are making farmers to dislike going to the farms for the fear of their lives.
The bandits have changed the scenario of farms in the state from being the biggest contributor to the economic lifeline of the people to death traps.
The government records show that over 13,000 hectares of arable farmlands and several thousand tons of food items in local silos have been destroyed in the last six years. Without doubt, the rising wave of banditry and kidnappings have put the state at the precipice of food scarcity as many farmers, both large scale, medium scale and peasant farmers, may likely not take part in farming activities in this rainy season as many farmers have been killed while working on their farmlands across the state, leaving many hectares of farmlands uncultivated.
Alhaji Yau Muhammad Dansadau, a large-scale farmer in Dansadau emirate in Maru LGA of the state, said that between 2010 and 2013, he used to harvest over 10,000 bags of maize, sorghum, rice, soya beans and cowpea, but unfortunately when the banditry got worse from 2014 his farm production began to decline.
“Between 2014 and 2018, my production dropped to 2,000 bags from over 10,000 bags. Honesty speaking most large and medium scale farmers will not farm this year even the majority of small scale and peasant farmers will not farm this year as some have even migrated to other states because of this lingering banditry and kidnappings in the state,” he said.
Yau who is the Chairman, Dansadau Farmers Association, warned that the activities of the bandits are pointing to food disaster in the state.
“Write it down, there is red signal for hunger coming in 2020 as there will not be enough food production in the state this year,” he said.
Long before the bloody activities of kidnappers and armed robbers in major neighbouring villages and towns of Kaduna State gained notoriety, Alhaji Lawal Maikudi was a contented and proud farmer of various kinds of crops, such as rice, maize, soya beans, millet and guinea-corn, which earned him good money.
But now he has abandoned his farm for fear of being kidnapped. The area where he used to farm in Igabi LGA is now the den of kidnappers.
“I have a farm which is about 20 kilometers away from Kaduna city centre. I used to grow rice, millet, maize, groundnut and guinea-corn. But as I speak to you I can no longer go to the farm for fear of being kidnapped on the farm. In time past I had a one-room apartment on the farm so that if I worked till late hours and got tired, I would pass the night on the farm.
“Now, I have abandoned both the apartment and the farm. I cannot take the risk of going to the farm any longer because apart from kidnapping, there are cases of banditry and armed robbery. The implication for a farmer like me, and other farmers, not to be able to go to the farm throughout one or two years is that there will be serious shortage of food in the Land.
“I am not the only farmer in that area, so you can imagine how many hectares that have not been cultivated with food crops. We are indeed in a mess. Government and security agencies should show more commitment and put up adequate security measures to tackle the situation,” he said.
In the same vein, Isaac Aga, who resides in Agwa area of Kudenda, Kaduna, said most farmers in the area have abandoned their farms for fear of kidnappers and other notorious criminals.
Aga noted that the worst hit farmers are those whose farms are located along the Abuja-Kaduna highway since it is the den of kidnappers.
Director of the College of Agriculture, Animal Science and Vocational Study, Faruk Ahmad, said that the youths need to be given entrepreneurship training and empowerment, as a way to dissuade them from engaging in criminality.
After 18 years of the reign of terror by Fulani herdsmen, which caused the death of hundreds of Plateau men and women, the state is gradually being overwhelmed by kidnapping and banditry.
At the moment, most people are living in fear and at the mercy of kidnappers at the state capital and in the rural villages. The trend is that the kidnappers would disguise themselves as neighbours and casually knock on the door and once the door is opened, the person would be abducted at gunpoint.
In an event where the door is not open, they would force themselves into the house and abduct a teenager, terrorise the victim and inflict pains on the parents until ransom is paid.
This banditry and other criminal activities have compounded security challenges in the state and put perpetual fear in the residents. The kidnappers incidentally live among the people without anybody being aware of their activities.
In February 2019, the 12-year-old son of the chaplain of Plateau State Polytechnic, Barkin-Ladi, Kim Dido was kidnapped, leaving the father, Pastor Andrew Dido, in psychological agony.
The boy was held in captivity for two days until the family raised the ransom before he was released. The kidnappers broke into his quarters in the institution and abducted the teenage boy.
Two months later, kidnappers abducted 24-year-old Abigail Rangs, a student of the same institution who was living with her elder brother, Mr Exeziel Rangs.
The gunmen broke into the staff quarters on that fateful day about midnight, and demanded for money, but they were not satisfied with what they were offered.
The gunmen ordered Mr Rangs to lead them to the children’s room, where they woke up the young woman and left with her. She was released one day after payment of ransom.
Mr Rangs, who narrated the sad incident, said that three of the kidnappers wore black and mask on their faces. They broke into his compound with a heavy stone.
These are few cases apart from silent kidnapping in Rayfield, Kwang and Angwan Rimi, all in Jos South and Jos North Local Government Areas of the state.
In the wake of these abductions, farmers in the rural villages have abandoned their farms for fear of kidnappers and bandits. Naturally, farming activities have drastically gone down with the result that food scarcity may ensue, if urgent steps are not taken by the government to arrest the downward spiral.