Magnus Eze, Enugu, Jeff Amechi Agbodo, Onitsha, George Onyejiuwa, Owerri, Okey Sampson, Umuahia, and Chijioke Agwu, Abakaliki
The Igbo of the South East are predominantly traders and farmers. But the lingering lockdown occasioned by the coronavirus pandemic has crippled virtually every economic activity in Nigeria.
With this, there have been growing concerns that there would be food shortage in the country. And the situation is worsened in the South East, where, according to the Alaigbo Development Foundation (ADF), the region is faced with two deadly forces, the COVID-19 and invasion of murderous Fulani herdsmen, frustrating farming activities there this planting season.
The Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), on May 2, 2020, raised the alarm of imminent hunger and starvation, asking South East people to immediately embrace massive agricultural activities to avert the disaster. It said the overdependence on foodstuff from the northern part of the country was very precarious and would worsen with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Leader of MASSOB, Uchenna Madu, in a statement, said the looming food shortage would be more dangerous than the coronavirus. He noted that the pandemic and its destructive effects on the social, economic, religious and commercial life of Ndigbo were an eye-opener for a serious long-term approach for countering future endemics: “MASSOB directs every Igbo family, irrespective of their residential locations to use this farming season to commence rigorous farming. Ndigbo are not known as lazy or weaklings; the ability of a man to provide food for his family is what proves him as a family man. Every Igbo family must embark on farming now because we can’t continue to depend on state governments for palliatives. No state government can feed or provide wholesomely for her citizens in a lockdown.
“MASSOB warns the terrorists and destructive Fulani herdsmen to leave Igboland now, the existence and activities of these marauding and genocidal ethnic cleansing army sponsored by jihadists have caused more excruciating and destructive damage of human lives, properties and farmlands of southern, western and Middle Belt regions since the inception of the Buhari administration. MASSOB can no longer guarantee their safety in Igboland. We can no longer tolerate their maiming, raping, killing and mesmerisation of the lives and properties of Ndigbo.”
Like MASSOB, the South East Governors’ Forum, after its maiden teleconference of May 14, urged the people to embrace agriculture without further delay. Its chairman, Governor David Umahi of Ebonyi State, said: “We encourage our youths to key into agriculture programmes in the states as this would keep them busy and sustain the livelihood of lots of our people. Our youths should take advantage of the CBN agricultural intervention programmes, which are currently available. They can make contacts with their state’s ministry of agriculture on how to get involved, as this is of utmost importance now.”
Earlier, the Federal Government had asked states and security operatives to allow farmers go to their farms, as they were essential workers to ensure food for Nigerians. Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), chairman of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, Boss Mustapha, in Abuja, said: “When the new measures were rolled out and published, we ensured that certain economic activities pertaining to food production and distribution were exempted. This, for the avoidance of doubts, includes farming activities. We recognize the fact that we are in the planting season and the nation cannot afford to prevent our hardworking farmers from going to their farms.
“We, therefore, use this medium to reemphasize that farmers fall within the list of exemptions and urge governors, local government authorities and security agencies to, please, allow them to carry out their activities. Our food security is critical to our national security.”
However, president of the Association of South East Town Unions (ASATU), Chief Emeka Diwe, lamented the plight of farmers in the South East, noting that movement of agricultural inputs, implements and the likes was seriously hampered. He noted that many of the security agents manning the highways would claim to be unaware of the exemption accorded those involved in agriculture: “They could detain your truck, make unnecessary demands. They would ask you to call the Commissioner of Police, that they didn’t make the law, all in a bid to extort money from you. Our farmers are really suffering.”
Regardless, president-general of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Nnia Nwodo, has warned that the Igbo were ever capable of defending themselves, stressing that they would not fold their arms and allow gun-toting Fulani herdsmen to continue harassing, raping, maiming and killing them in their own homes. He said: “We are law-abiding, hospitable and always ready to coexist with others but not as foes and at a supreme price.”
Ebonyi: ‘There’s scarcity of funds’
Commissioner for Agriculture, Ebonyi State, Chief Ogodo Ali Nomeh, said: “COVID-19 has affected farming and agricultural activities everywhere, not only in Ebonyi State. Everything is on lockdown; no movement, no business and no money. There is scarcity of money, and farmers cannot do without money. Money is not circulating because of the lockdown and people need money to do farming.
“Coronavirus has affected farming because it has affected the flow of money, the movement of farming equipment from place to place and also affected the morale of farmers because nobody knows what the future holds. Government is making serious effort to help farmers by way of giving them loans to assist them.
“Government has also acquired thousands of hectares of land in all parts of the state to go into massive agriculture to ensure that Ebonyi maintains its place as the food basket of the South East after COVID-19.”
President-general, Ogboji General Assembly, Ezzagu, Ishielu Local Government Area, John Anyalagu, had in a petition said: “We write to inform of the continued attack of our farmland by Fulani herdsmen and their cattle. You may recall that the community raised similar alarm in 2017 when the herders attacked our Azuide farm settlement, which we eventually lost to them.
“Now, they have relocated their cattle to Offia Ogboji farm settlement where they attack and destroyed our crops day and night. We also want the leadership of the Fulani herdsmen in Ebonyi State to know about this ugly development. We call on the security agencies and other relevant stakeholders to intervene and save further destruction of our farmlands by herders.”
Imo: ‘Herdsmen’ve taken over our farms’
Eze Benneth Uduhirinwa, traditional ruler of Alatia community in Ngor Okpala council, Imo State, said: “This is a rural and agrarian community. For sometime now, our people have been suffering because of the problem of the destruction of our farmlands, which is our source of livelihood.
“Our people depend on the proceeds from their farms such as yam tubers, cocoyam; cassava. But, most of the time, Fulani people will use their cows to destroy our farms. This problem has caused pains to our people resulting in clashes between our youths and the Fulani people. As a result of this, a cup of garri is now N50.
“We have called on the government to help us because the people will not continue to fold their arms while Fulani people and their cows continue to destroy our means of livelihood.
“Our women don’t go to the farms alone because of the fear of Fulani people who are most times seen in the bush. This situation is affecting our farming activities.”
Anayo Alexander, a farmer in Alatia, Ngor Okpala LGA, Imo State, said: “Last year, I could not harvest enough from the five farms I cultivated because of the activities of these Fulani people. It is the same thing for many of our people. As result of this, the community formed a vigilante group who keep watch at night.
“Last time, we caught five of the Fulani people and their cows and our youths said that they must pay for the damage but they begged that they don’t have money and that they are not the owners of the cows.
“When we informed the police about the Fulani herdsmen, they said that the matter would be settled peacefully but asked the Fulani people not to allow their cows to destroy people’s farms.
“Now, we buy a paint can of garri for N800 in this village because of the activities of Fulani people as most of the farmers in our community did not have enough harvest.”
President-general of Alatia community, Imo State, Goodluck Maduagwu, said: “We had a tough time with the herdsmen last year. But this time around, we have warned that we will not tolerate their destructive activities again in our community.
“We have common boundary with Rivers State and most times the herdsmen usually come from Rivers State and as they are coming, their cows keep eating up our cassava farms along the road.
“This is another farming season and people are now more watchful about the activities of the herdsmen because, if we allow them to continue destroying our farmlands, we will go hungry. We have instructed our youths not to attack them but to chase them away from the farmlands.”
Abia: ‘COVID-19 blessing in disguise to farmers’
Traditional ruler of Okahia, chairman, Obingwa Traditional Rulers’ Council, Eze Okey Ananaba, said: “COVID-19 pandemic will definitely negatively affect agricultural produce this season. But, somehow, it will impact positively on crop production within our area because now that people are confined indoors, the only way out for them is to begin to go to farm to plant crops
“I tell you that, to the rural farmers, COVID-19 lockdown is a blessing in disguise, they now take everybody in the family, including those that could have gone to the market for their businesses or offices to work, to the farm to work, so, to that extent, there will be an increase in food production next season within the rural setting.
“The people are not obeying government directives by locking themselves indoors, but are taking everybody to the farm and with this there will be increase in crop production this season.
“But the gains farmers could have made by this lockdown will be defeated by attack by pests. The major problem we are going to have in food production this season is the attack by pests.
“I must add that, because of the COVID-19 lockdown, where no business is going on, it has been very difficult for farmers to get the right insecticides and when they get, they are very expensive and this is going to, in a way, negatively affect agricultural production this season.”
Anambra: ‘Farmers need government grants’
Traditional ruler of Omor in Ayamelum LGA, Igwe Oranu Chris Chidume, said: “It (COVID-19) affects our farmers to the extent that they could not get some inputs that are supposed to come from other states due to lockdown and border closure. Sometimes they get to their farm ready for cultivation but the inputs to be used in the farm are not there and, where you see it, the price would be very high because of the principles of demand and supply, thereby slowing farming.
“For instance, they may need herbicide and other chemicals they use in the farm, which is not available. Again, the money required for cultivation is not available, especially those who want to borrow from banks and co-operative societies. This is because the requisite that is required for perfecting borrowing process suffered because of the lockdown.
“The major thing affecting my people at the moment is a crisis between farmers in a cluster, which has affected the movement of the farmers. People are not moving freely because you know farming is an individual thing and because they are being attacked in their farms it has affected farming, people no longer to go to the farm due to fear of being attacked.”
President-general, Umumbo community, Ayamelu LGA, Anthony Nnamma, said: “For now, the herdsmen are no longer in our place. Last month, they had a problem with our neighbouring community, which put fear in our people not to go to farm. The COVID-19 is really affecting our farmers because they cannot borrow money to cultivate.
“We do not farm to only eat; we farm for commercial purposes. That is why we do mechanized farming mainly, while some other farmers use manual method. Money is involved. We depend on micro loans to cultivate. These microfinance banks and co-operative societies could not give money to farmers.
“As I am speaking with you, only two farmers have ploughed their farmlands not to talk of harrowing it for rice cultivation. It really affects our farmers because our source of money to farm is not given to us. When you talk of land, we have massive land for farming and we are ready for cultivation but there is no money. And this is forcing our farmers to go back to manual (hoe) means of cultivation, which will not give us mass production and enough food next year.
“To plough a plot of land costs over N10,000 and where a farmer doesn’t have enough money he will resort to manual system. It is a very serious issue that the output next year will be very low, except government gives farmers grant to farm. Our people need government attention because there is no road even to the farms.
“I am appealing for grant for our farmers in Umumbo community so that, by next year, food will be enough to feed not only the state but the entire Nigeria.”