■As communities abandon farms in Benue, Nasarawa, Enugu for herdsmen
Enyeribe Ejiogu (Lagos),; Rose Ejembi (Makurdi); Linus Oota (Lafia); Ralph Ede (Enugu)
Stakeholders in the agricultural sector have raised the alarm that there might be food scarcity cum crisis in the country if herdsmen continue to attack their host communities and killing farmers at random.
From the time the killer herdsmen intensified their attacks in their murderous quest to carve out a large expanse of lush green land for grazing their cattle, farming communities in Benue State, widely acknowledged as the food basket of the nation, have been under serious threat, a pointer that famine might set in, in the country. As it is in Benue, so it is in Nasarawa, Taraba and Adamawa states.
In Borno State, where the Boko Haram insurgents have left the state’s economy in ruins, the once profitable vocation of freshwater fishing has been abandoned. The long lines of Mercedes Benz 911 and 16-wheeler trailer trucks, whose engines use to roar throughout the day and night as thousands of fish traders thronged the major smoked-fish distribution hubs in the states in the North-east, Borno State particularly, have disappeared from the roads.
As at the end of May this year, the population of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Benue, who are mainly farmers of food crops, had risen to over 170,000 and this conservative number does not include the thousands of those currently squatting with relatives after they were displaced from their villages by the killer herdsmen.
Also, many have been killed while many villages have been sacked, farmlands and food barns have also been completely destroyed and in most cases razed by the attackers.
In spite of the intervention of the federal and state governments to ensure security of lives and property in the affected areas by drafting more security personnel to keep peace, law and order, the killers seem to be more daring and emboldened to kill, maim and destroy.
This is evident in the way they have also killed security personnel, including soldiers, policemen and officers of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defense Corps, in their line of duty in the state. After clearly seeing the grave danger posed by the incessant attacks by herdsmen in Benue, which occupies a pride of place on the nation’s food production map, Governor Samuel Ortom cried out over the cropping up of humanitarian crisis in his state and the need to nip the ugly trend in the bud by calling for the arrest of the leadership of the Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore (MAKH), a Fulani socio-cultural group that has never hidden its involvement in the murderous attacks, through its energetic defence of what amounts to a case of pillage, conquer and occupy communities, to advance their agenda of creating
illegal cattle colonies through the force of arms. The governor at several fora had lamented that the farming population in the state was being deliberately depleted by MAKH, which is executing the agenda it set out when it declared that it would mobilize all its people across the continent to resist the Anti-Open Grazing Law enacted by
Benue State Commissioner of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Mr James Anbua, who spoke with Sunday Sun on the situation, lamented that the farming population in the state now live in IDP camps and cannot go back home to continue in their farming activities.
He noted that those who braved the odds and attempted to return home were murdered by the attackers, thus stirring up fears among others who are planning to return to their homes and farms.
“The food basket is being threatened, especially the food producing areas. And since the people are not allowed to go back home to commence their farming, there is threat to food security,” Anbua said.
Anbua stressed that all well-meaning people in the country must necessarily get on the same page to ensure that the hideous and grotesques attacks on Benue communities stop. He warned that if the attacks continue, there would be famine in the country.
He reiterated that the state’s ranching law had come to stay, and maintained that ranching is the global best practice in the management of cattle for milk and meat production.
He again appealed to the Federal Government to use every security apparatus to flush out the insurgents, adding that it is the responsibility of the Federal Government to ensure that the Benue ranching law is obeyed by all.
“The Benue Anti-Opening Grazing and Ranching Law is a legislation that was accepted by the generality of the people. Ranching is the only option and our governor has consistently called on anyone with superior alternative to come forward and nobody has done so.
“So, for now, there’s no other alternative to this law. We are appealing to the Federal Government to ensure that the law is obeyed by all,” the commissioner said.
Also speaking, the President-General, Mzough U Tiv Sociocultural organization, Engr. Edward Ujege, noted that there was great possibility of the herdsmen’s attacks leading to famine in the country, warning that the country was toying with a time bomb of grievous famine if it allows the Benue incursion to continue.
“If this pogrom is allowed to continue, there is surely going to be gross repercussion of famine in the country because the farming population can no longer go to farm as they are now confined in IDP camps,” Ujege said.
The community leader who commended the Federal Government for heeding to several calls for the upgrade of the military exercise in Benue to a full operation now known as Operation Whirl Stroke expressed the hope that with the new step the Benue farming population would in due course return to their homes peacefully to continue with their farming activities.
“We are hoping that these soldiers that have come will continue to do the needful. I under- stand they are doing their best, but my advice is that the Federal Government should look at the root of the problem. Our major problem is coming from Nasarawa where it looks like the government is supporting the killer herdsmen. That is why the Fulani attackers have taken over lands belonging to Tiv people in Nasarawa,” he said.
Speaking on the effect of herdsmen attacks on the nation’s food security, an Associate Professor with the Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi and Seed Systems Specialist with IITA, Dr Lucky Omoigui, warned that the attacks would have a negative effect on the food security of the country.
“You know that most of the communities in Benue are agrarian. It’s so unfortunate that we are having this issue in the state. It’s posing a grave danger to the food basket of the nation. Most of the food produce are being destroyed and many of these farmers have lost their source of livelihood and their income. So, there is bound to be hunger in the land.
“The seeds the farmers have saved for planting are no longer there. It’s like we are in a war zone. When there is wastage or food shortage, there is going to be famine. There is going to be less supplies and high demands. If this is not stopped, it’s going to have negative impact.
“The state and Federal Government need to support the farmers who have lost all their pro- duce by buying seeds and distributing to them. They must also guarantee the safety of the peoIf these are not sorted out now, it will lead to food scarcity in the country,” Omoigui said.
As it is in Benue, so it is in Nasarawa State that is close to the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. The Abuja yam is a kind of yam that is popular in Lagos and the FCT. Incidentally, it is grown by Tiv communities in Nasarawa State, the very same farmers that have been driven from their farms by killer herdsmen.
Former chairman of All Farmers Association in Nasarawa State, Alhaji Abubakar Mohammed, is one person who is deeply disturbed by the constant attacks by the herdsmen on farmers.
His fears about the wider implications of this beyond the staggering number of people killed in the attacks are not unconnected with the growing alarm over the imminent famine in the country.
the development could lead to malnutrition and poor health.
He said that food production in the state would likely drop by 65 per cent this year as a result of constant herdsmen attacks on farmers, noting that the recent attacks came at a time when farm- ers in the state were supposed to be preparing the farmlands for cultivation of the various crops.
He stressed that the bulk of the farmers, who survived the attacks, had been displaced and now currently taking refuge outside their com- munities in IDP camps.
He said that the bulk of the food crops pro- duced in Nasarawa State comes from the south- ern zone covering Doma, Awe, Keana and Obi local government areas, dominated by the Tiv people who have all been displaced because of the herdsmen attacks.
He explained that these areas have comparative advantage in the production of rice, yam, corn, sesame seed, and beniseed, adding that most of the farms were also burnt by the marauding herdsmen.
“The attacks on Tiv farmers in Nasarawa State between January to May 2018 will have adverse effects on the nation’s food security because the almost 65 per cent. The rainy season farming has been scuttled by herdsmen attacks because Awe, Keana, Obi and Doma local government areas perience food crisis next year because the attacks have threatened national food security.
“The poor handling of herdsmen crisis in the state by the government will surely throw the state and the country into serious food crisis from this year going forward. Most farmers in almost all the food producing areas in Nasarawa to various IDP camps.
“The tentacles of insecurity are far reaching, the threats are grave for food production because state (Nasarawa South), where food is produced not only for the state, but the whole country. Farms are targeted and destroyed, farmers are killed and terror holds sway in the rural communities.
“This has a natural outcome of looming food shortage as the continuing killings of farmers have affected this year’s planting season, which will lead to food shortage in the state and the country at large,” he said.
Herdsmen colonizing most of the farms in Enugu In Enugu State, April 25, 2016 will remain evergreen in the history of Nimbo community in
Uzo-Uwani Local Government Area of the state. It was on that day that marauding armed Fulani herdsmen invaded the agrarian community and massacred 11 people and left 15 others with various degrees of serious injuries. The pictures of the fatal injuries on the dead were gory and evoked shock and revulsion across the country.
Two years after the invasion, the people are yet to recover from the incident as they have abandoned their farmlands for herdsmen for fears of further attacks.
The traditional ruler of Nimbo community, His Royal Highness, Eze John Ikemefuna Akor, who spoke with Sunday Sun expressed fears about the looming reality of famine as his people can no longer go to their farms and comfortably cultivate their crops as the fear of herdsmen pervades the area.
“There is this atmosphere of real fear that has gripped the people. The herdsmen we have now are well trained terrorists,” the monarch said, stressing that in the past when the real herdsmen destroyed crops they would pay compensation, but the new generation of herdsmen destroy farms and plantation and instead of begging they would resort to killing.
Eze John explained that the new breed of herdsmen is very hostile, aggressive and even wicked;; saying that they just kill people only for asking them questions when seen in their farmlands.
The monarch queried why the Federal Government appears to be shielding the herdsmen, if truly elements within the apparatus of the central government are not conspirators giving secret backing to the killers behind the scene.
He threw his support for the adoption of ranching, saying “the only way to curtail the ac- tivities of herdsmen is ranching. That is the modern way of rearing cattle and that is the only way out. You don’t come to destroy the only means of livelihood of the members of the community while you are making your own money.”
Also speaking, the traditional Prime Minister of Nimbo, Hon. Thaddeus Okenwa, told Sun- day Sun that Fulani herders had taken over their fertile farmlands and insisted that they would not leave the community.
“The situation we have is the case of people bringing what they depend on to live to our community to destroy what we depend on for our livelihood. Our people no longer go to the farm for fear of being attacked,” Okenwa said He said that the entire Uzo-Uwani is made up of agrarian communities. “The invasion of my community and attacks on other communities in Uzo-Uwani have forced farmers to look for alter- native business to engage for survival. Some of the farmers have abandoned farming and moved to Nsukka town because of herdsmen.
“We are peasant farmers;; we are not using machine in our farm, we only use our hoes and cutlasses. If their cattle pass through your farm today and go there the next day, the soil will look like where masons mixed cement, gravel and sand. The soil is damaged. It will be hard to cultivate in that kind of place. We are begging that they should be stopped from coming to our land again, because if we plant crops today, over- night herdsmen will destroy it. The worst is that they will uproot your cassava and lay it for the animals to eat. This is an undeclared war against us and the country’s food security, but the government is not seeing it this way. The Federal Government is not handling this problem the right way,” he said.
A woman leader, Mrs Mary Akor, who noted that women who are the major integral population of the farming communities, lamented that the most fertile places where they cultivate have been abandoned because of the fear of attacks by herdsmen who routinely rape women seen in the farms.
Her words: “The Fulani herdsmen shocked our community when they started beating our women in the farm, harvesting our crops for their cattle and we have been crying to the government. In 2016, they killed nine people in our community and we ran out of this community for three months. We are all Nigerians, let every- body manage his own area. We are farmers and there is no way we can live without farming and when they destroy our land how can we farm? For instance, if your wife went to the farm and came back to tell you that another man raped her how would you feel? It is an abomination, a crime and we the women don’t go to the farm alone again because we are afraid.”
Mrs Akor appealed that herdsmen should leave Nimbo and go back to their various states where they could arrange their cattle in one place and grow grass to feed them as being practiced in other countries.
Also speaking, the President General of Ohum-OrbaAutonomous Community in Udenu Local Government Area of Enugu State, Dr Pat- rick Eze, agreed with the views of the monarch and Okenwa who expressed fears that famine is imminent in the country.
Incidentally, Eze who escaped herdsmen attack in his farm recently pointed out that the herdsmen who were seen in the past always moved about with their wives, children and cat- tle and did not cause trouble to their host communities.
He wondered why the sudden turnaround where herdsmen now go on rampage, destroying crops, burning barns and killing people.
“They have even gone into kidnapping and robbery. I was attacked some time ago and I was lucky to have escaped.
“So, it portends danger for the agricultural survival of this country, especially in our area where our farmers mostly cultivate cassava. It portends danger in the near future because most farmers are afraid to go into their farms again. The herds- men have colonized most of the farmlands in the area.
“I perceive danger and hunger in the nearest future. I don’t know how it is going to be tack-dress this menace through ranching. Ranching is the solution now. The issue of herdsmen going around with cattle in this 21st Century is not acceptable and it is an obsolete practice and it’s very antagonistic to the economy of this country,” he said.
In the opinion of a Professor of Agronomy at the University of Nigeria Nsukka, Prof Michael Madukwe, what Nigerians are confronted with today are two types of herdsmen;; one group enters the farm either to eat it or destroy it. This one is causing damage to the existing crops in the cattle. It is the second group that is the real threat as, according to him, they are the ones that kill Nigerian farmers and burn communities.
“From my own understanding the people may not be herdsmen. These are killer squads that apparently go to attack farmers who may have op- position to the operations of herdsmen and these people belong to paramilitary groups with good training and sophistication, they are the ones that enter and burn villages.
Madukwe stated that a killer squad is being funded by a powerful group in Nigeria who want to take over the country.
“When they move, police and army will dis- appear, but after their operations they will reap- pear”, he alleged, citing the incident at the Nimbo in Uzo-Uwani.
“The police were there in the night and throughout the morning. Immediately they left, the killer squad came in, that is to show that it was coordinated with the security agencies.
“The effect of herdsmen coming to kill farmers is that people wouldn’t farm at all. Farmers are afraid to go to those areas where they will be attacked. They will not farm and the opportunity to farm is being wasted and that will lead to low production and inject poverty among the people.
“The place the people farm are not just behind their homes. They are usually some dis- tance from settlements and are large expanses of land. They can’t go there because that is where they kill them. If this is not controlled poverty, unemployment will increase, food production will drop drastically, food prices will rise in the market and possibly lead to food riots. So, the Federal Government needs to address it frontal- ly,” he said.
Madukwe advised state and local governments to create what he called “town union secu- rity organs” to address the menace by deploying their security votes to this regard.
Meanwhile, the agrarian communities such as Nara, Ihuzam, Mubulu-Mbu, Amegunzi, Nkele Aninri LGA have witnessed one form of attack or the other even as the farmers in the hill communities in Awgu council area were not spared from herdsmen’s attacks.