Rose Ejembi (Makurdi), John Adams (Minna), Gyang Bere (Jos), Sylvanus Viashima (Jalingo)
The laudable desire of the Federal Government to ramp up agriculture as a core strategy to diversify the economy and boost the country’s food security by increasing local production of staple foodstuff is now facing a great threat from widespread rampant attacks by bandits and armed herdsmen, who kill, maim and sack people in farming communities.
The menace which has been going on for some time is gaining momentum as the uncoordinated and flat-footed response of the government seems to embolden the criminal elements carrying out the attacks.
Equally, in some states, the threat to food production has been exacerbated by clashes between communities over farmlands. In states known for their enormous contribution to food production, the blood of farmers killed by bandits and herdsmen has not ceased to flow while the lives of those who survived the attacks have been torn apart, as they have been turned into refugees and in some instances reduced to destitution. This much was revealed in some of the major states involved in the production of food.
For the past two years, Simon Orshio, a native of Mbabai Village in Guma Local Government Area of Benue State has been living in the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp with his family. He escaped from his village in 2018 after Fulani herdsmen attacked it, killed many people and displaced the survivors. Since then, he and his entire household, including his aged father and siblings have been at the Abagana IDP Camp in Makurdi, the Benue State capital.
They had not been able to return to their ancestral homes since they escaped the murderous attack. But this year, Orshio along with other members of the village decided to take their destiny in their hands, to revive their farming activities from the relative safety of the IDP camp.
“We would usually go in a group of 10 or more to cultivate the land and plant our seeds. I planted maize and melon on my own farm and I was already looking forward to having a bounty harvest. Last Thursday, we tried to go to the farm again to check on our plants. On our way coming back, Fulani herdsmen attacked us and snatched my motorcycle from me. I’m only lucky to be alive today because those herdsmen looked very daring and they could kill.
“Since that day, we have been scared to return to the farm to check our plants. I’m told that the Fulani herdsmen, after attacking us that day, herded their cattle into our farms and the animals consumed all our crops. If that is true, then we are back to where we started,” Orshio recounted painfully.
He is not alone in this predicament as another man, Philip Usartse, from Uvir Ward in Guma Local Government Area of the state said that he also attempted to return to his village to farm. After tilling the ground and planting millet, melon, maize and groundnuts, Usartse said that armed herdsmen came recently while they were in the farm and started shooting sporadically to chase them away.
“We attempted to go back home and farm, but unfortunately, last week, Fulani came to our village and killed people. We had to run for our dear lives back to the IDP camp. Now, we are afraid to go back to check on our farms,” Phillip recalled, noting that the incessant attacks by herdsmen on the farming communities have continued to pose great threat to food security in the country.
He, therefore, called on the Federal Government to urgently do something to end the menace.
“Benue is known as the food basket of the nation. But with the way things are now, we may not be able to live up to that name this year except the Federal Government intervenes urgently and seriously,” he said.
He lamented that the camp is even too congested for them, especially in this era of COVID-19, stressing that if anyone should test positive in the camp, there would be rapid spread of the disease in the camp because of the congested manner in which they live.
In the last five years, Niger State has been plagued by banditry. Although every part of the state has had one form of security challenge or the other arising from kidnaping, cattle rustling and rape, Shiroro, Munya, Kagara and Rafi are the four local government areas that have become the epicentre of the activities of bandits activities, where the people have lost their ancestral homes and farms.
About 176 communities across the four LGAs have remained “no-go areas” as they are under the control of armed bandits.
From 2015 when the bandits launched their attacks till date, more than 10,000 people have been displaced and are taking refuge in six IDP camps. The bandits have sustained the attacks and no week passes without an attack on the people. Several have been kidnapped and their families compelled to pay huge ransoms.
It is noteworthy that the four worst hit local governments account for over 70 per cent of the food produced in the state. For instance, Shiroro and Munya local governments, where the bandits are almost hoisting their flag, are jointly the highest producers of yam, maize, guinea corn, groundnut and cassava.
The senator representing Niger East Senatorial District, Senator Sani Musa, whose constituency covers these areas, lamenting told Sunday Sun that the food crisis is already staring in the people in the face.
“What is happening right now is that the people don’t even have what to eat not to talk of going to farm. They have sold all their farm produce to pay various amounts as ransoms for the release of their family members.
“The reports that I am receiving from my constituency show that the people are living from hand-to-mouth with nothing to fall back on. And with the continued killing by the bandits, the people have all relocated from villages to the town and are afraid to go back. The situation is quite pathetic,” Senator Musa said.
He, therefore, suggested that the only solution to the current security situation is for the Federal Government to establish a military base within the region most affected by banditry activities.
Recently, some youths from the two most affected local government areas (Rafi and Shiroro) took to the streets in protest to register their displeasure over the continued onslaught by bandits in their communities.
The youths in their separate protests called on the government to urgently address the deteriorating security situation in their localities, especially now that the planting season has commenced, stressing that the entire state and the nation at large will bear the consequences of food scarcity if they cannot go back to their farms due to security challenge.
In Rafi LGA, the protesting youths said that their communities have been under siege from armed bandits, who have killed about 45 villagers, rustled over 2,000 cattle and kidnapped 15 people. The families of the abductees have paid N8.5million as ransom for their release in the last four months alone.
The youths under the auspices of Amalgamation of Youths Development Association, Rafi LGA, marched through the hitherto busy, but now desolate Kagara highway with a simple message: “Enough is Enough” over the relentless massacre of their people by bandits with the government paying little or no attention to curb the situation.
The youths said that they were more infuriated by the removal of the mobile police base from Uregi community three weeks earlier. They described the action of the government as “a complete betrayal of the people.”
The mobile base, according to the youths, was established in the area three years ago at the height of banditry and cattle rustling, adding that without any reason, the mobile base was removed three weeks ago.
National President, Kamuku Progressive Union, Mallam Akayago Adams Mohammed and the National Chairman, Jayawa Community Development Association, Mallam Abubakar Baba Umar, who spoke withSunday Sun said that the youths were compelled to stage the protest to alert the world and the government about the happenings in their communities.
The outcry of the youths apparently struck the right chord in the ears of Niger State governor, Alhaji Abubakar Sani Bello, and other concerned leaders in the state, who raised the alarm over the escalation of banditry in the state, warning that if the situation is not quickly addressed and brought under control, there will be food shortage in the state.
The governor stated this when the Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshall Sadik Abubakar, paid him a courtesy visit at the Government House during a visit to the state to assess the progress of the air operation against the bandits ordered by President Muhammadu Buhari in February this year.
The plight of farmers in Plateau State is no less heart-rending as herdsmen have prevented most of them from cultivating their farmlands. More agonizing is that those who have been able to plant crops, have had the mature crops that are almost ready for harvest destroyed by herdsmen who deliberately graze their cattle in the farms, destroying the crops in the process.
Though, when strongly confronted by the leaders of the farmers, the herdsmen accept responsibility, but what they pay as compensation has always been grossly inadequate to cover the real value of the crops destroyed.
This sad experience has been the lot of people in Gyero village of Gyel District in Jos South Local Government Area of Plateau State, where herdsmen grazed freely in about 50 farms belonging to the natives.
Governor Solomon Lalong had exempted the villagers from the lockdown imposed on state, to allow them plant their crops. When the crops had grown to a viable stage, the herdsmen let their herds of cattle loose to graze in the farms at night.
The victims were speechless when they saw the horrendous damage done to the farms and bemoaned the huge loss they incurred. It was gathered that the incident had been a regular occurrence.
At the moment, the farmers employed hunters and adopted community policing to watch over their crops. But this solution has already cost the life of a farmer and hunter in the area, John Simon and his two children who were attacked in the bush by suspected bandits who shot him, but his children sustained injuries on their legs.
John who is currently recovering from the gunshot at the Jos University Teaching Hospital (JUTH) told Sunday Sun: “I narrowly escaped death; it was God that saved me and my children otherwise I would have been dead by now.”
Farmers in Barkin-Ladi, Riyom, Bokkos and Bassa local government areas are passing through the same experience at the hands of armed herdsmen who attack and forcefully take over their lands, leaving the people in despair.
In Basso Local Government Area, primary school pupils recently came out to protest over the killing of 42 children and 646 others orphaned in Irigwe communities. The orphaned children now beg to survive.
Taraba State is rightly christened: “Nature’s Gift to the Nation” due to its enormous potentials in agriculture, tourism, mineral resources and manpower
With vast fertile land, Taraba has enormous capacity to supply the total need of the nation in terms of rice, yam, sesame seeds and others while the varied climatic conditions support massive production of the widest variety of crops, ranging from cocoa, coffee to green tea, avocado, apple, plantain, banana, soybean, millet, peanut to sugarcane.
However, incessant communal clashes that frequently flare up in the southern part of the state, known for massive production of yam and cereals, is the biggest threat to food security, not just in the state, but the country at large as yam from the state is sold across the country.
In Wukari Local Government Area, which is the largest yam production area in the North, fighting between the Tiv and Jukun started April last year and most people could not farm. Thus they actually could not maintain the farms and the farms were plundered. Harvests were also massively destroyed and plundered in the course of the crisis.
A seasoned farmer, Mr Agbu Thaddeus, said that most farmers lost not only their harvest and means of livelihood, but also the zeal and interest in farming.
“Last year, before the crisis started, I had over 3,000 tubers of yams in my house and was just preparing for the next planting season when my village was sacked. I was lucky to escape with my family, but that was all I could get out. They destroyed my house and burnt down all my barns filled with yam tubers. As we speak, I can’t go back to my house and so I am not even thinking of farming. How will I start when I have lost everything? The crisis has destroyed us all. For some of us, we are simply looking to see how it will all end,” Agbu said.
Similarly, Terkuma Orwua, lost his wife on his farm when tribal militia attacked his village while they were farming. He narrated his ordeal to Sunday Sun:
“I was on my farm with my wife and other people when the Jukun attacked us. We all ran away, but they shot my wife and I could not rescue her. I lost my wife, my home, all my harvest and my farm as well. They plundered everything. Now that the rainy season is here, most of us cannot go to the farms for fear of being attacked and killed. That is how senseless this crisis is. Unfortunately, they are even trying to spread it to other parts of the state in a bid to eliminate the Tiv from the state.”
The story is the same in Takum, Donga, Bali and Kurmi. Recently, a clergyman was attacked on his farm in Donga and killed with his pregnant wife. This came after over 50 persons were allegedly massacred at the Mararaba market in Donga Local Government Area following a minor dispute between Tiv and Jukun in the area.
In Takum, Wukari, Donga, Bali, Kurmi, Lau and other parts of the state, crisis has continued to persist with attendant destruction of lives and property.
Most farmers are now even scared of going to their farms as they seem to present easy targets for the tribal militia. With the rainy season running out so quickly, there is general apprehension that food crisis may become inevitable in the state.
With a view to returning peace to the troubled areas, Taraba State Governor Darius Ishaku directed security agencies to deploy personnel to the vulnerable areas and to ensure that those perpetrating the attacks are brought to book.
The governor decried the recent attacks on Maigoge and Tunga in Bali Local Government Area of the state, which resulted in the killing of many people.