Season of adversity, hunger

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By Enyeribe Ejiogu (Lagos), Tony Osauzo (Benin), Layi Olanrewaju (Ilorin), Paul Osuyi (Asaba), Rose Ejembi (Makurdi), Emmanuel Adeyemi (Lokoja), Noah Ebije (Kaduna), Obinna Odogwu (Awka), Abdulrazaq Mungadi (Gombe), Sylvanus Viashima (Jalingo), Olanrewaju Lawal (Birnin Kebbi), Tony John (Port Harcourt), John Adams (Minna)

When some years ago, Lt. General Theophilus Danjuma carpeted some officers and men of the Armed Forces for being complicit in the horrendous atrocities perpetrated by armed herdsmen in Taraba, Benue, Nasarawa,Plateau and some other states, not a few establishment apologists tackled him for lifting the veil on how soldiers were shielding the aggressors, who were forcefully and violently chasing away people in farming communities and taking over their farmlands, to graze their herds of cattle, and turning such areas into new settlements for themselves.Untitled24 7

A viral video in which he made the allegation, surfaced on Youtube at the time and it is still online. What began in that corner of the country has now morphed into a template being used in several other parts of the country, leaving a trail of death, blood, agony, maimed people, raped women, abductees and huge sums paid as ransom, in the aftermath of gruesome herdsmen attacks. The years of denial have passed and a stark reality has hit.

 Senator Smart Adeyemi, a chieftain of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) from Kogi State, put the situation in bold relief, stripping away all pretensions when he made an impassioned speech on the floor of the Senate. 

Today, the wholesale destruction of farmlands in farming communities in parts of the country has put Nigeria at the precipice of food scarcity, as reports from across the nation show. We bring you blow by blow situation reports from the affected states.

 DELTA

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Residents of Uwheru, an agrarian community in Ughelli North Local Government Area of Delta State have again abandoned their farms as a result of the resurgence of deadly and destructive activities of suspected herdsmen.

The community is one of the communities in the oil-rich state that are prone to attacks from armed herdsmen who not only destroy crops, but also spread terror, maiming and kidnapping people, as well as raping women.

While other communities appear to have heaved a sigh of relief from the menace of the armed herdsmen, residents of Uwheru have been apprehensive following renewed waves of attacks by the murderous marauding militia masquerading as herdsmen. 

About two years ago, about 10 youths of the community were killed in one fell swoop during an attack by the herdsmen. In the aftermath of that incident, the community banned the consumption of cow meat. But the attackers returned last month.

On the impact of the return of the herdsmen, President General of Uwheru Kingdom, Macpherson Egbedi, said: “They have come again and have started destroying our farmlands, raping women and killing people in the bush. At the moment, Ohoror Secondary School in the community has been shut after suspected herdsmen invaded the premises, injured two students and the security guard.

“Our people caught one of them, handed him over to the police, but he was released without investigation.  The destruction of our farms will stop us from farming, and there will be starvation because of scarcity of food. They came with over 30,000 cattle. You can imagine when 30,000 cattle pass through your land. When we saw them, we were concerned and informed the police, DSS, and other security agencies, but they did nothing. They are aiding and protecting the herdsmen.”

In the same vein, an elderly woman from the community, Mrs Otejiro Christiana Etagbedia, lamented the destruction of their farms and raping of women, saying, “the majority of our people are farmers. We earn our living from farming; there is no higher institution or company in this kingdom. This is what we use to train our children. Since Fulani are destroying our farms it has been difficult for us to train our children. For the past three days, the Fulani herdsmen have entered our farms and have been destroying the few crops that we have planted, driving people away. This situation is very bad. How can we live without food, how can we live without money, how can we train our children?”

The state Commissioner for Higher Education, Prof Patrick Muoboghare, who hails from the community condemned the continued attacks, and likened it to what Russia is doing in Ukraine. 

He accused the security agencies of aiding the herdsmen.

“You cannot see police presence here, and I am not expecting the Commissioner of Police to do anything; he cannot do anything, considering the calibre of persons that own the cattle, mainly senior army officers from the barracks and Alhajis from around the barracks. When the herdsmen come, they are escorted by the security services. The Nigerian government is aware of what is going on, but it has abandoned us to our own fate. The way I look at it, Uwheru is Ukraine while the Nigerian government is Russia, which sent guided missiles to Ukraine, the same way fake, armed herdsmen are being used to annihilate us for doing nothing just like Ukraine did nothing to Russia,” Muoboghare said.

NIGER

For people in Niger State farming communities under the reign of bandits, life is now akin to hell on earth. Bandits continue to pillage their communities, kidnap, maim and kill them just as they rape women, destroy farmlands and burn down houses.

Although the state has been challenged by banditry in the last six years, there has been a recent escalation of attacks by gunmen.

Sadly, the three main local government areas under siege, Rafi, Munya and Shiroro, account for 70 per cent of food production in the state. Recently, another local government, Mariga, has also come under attacks by bandits.

Expectedly, the situation has been a big source of concern to both the government and the people of the state. An estimated 120 communities in the eight affected wards of Shiroro, 60 communities in Rafi and 54 communities in Munya have remained no-go-areas as majority of them are under the control of armed bandits.

The state governor, Alhaji Abubakar Sani Bello and other concerned leaders in the state have continued to agonise over the escalation of banditry in the state, warning that if the situation is not quickly addressed and brought under control, there would be severe food shortage in the state, given the central role which Shiroro, Munya, Paikoro and Mariga play in food crop production in the state. With the escalation in the frequency of attacks by bandits, it will be very difficult for the people to return to their homes to cultivate their lands. The direct and immediate result will be a precipitous decline in food production leading to scarcity and sharp increase in the price of available foodstuff, further worsening the inflation spiral in the nation.

Already prices of foodstuff have hit the roof in the state. The prices of various types of foodstuff have witnessed astronomical increases and the worst is yet to come as there is nothing to suggest that the security situation will be brought under control for the people to return to their farms.

The Senator representing Niger East Senatorial District, Senator Sani Musa, whose constituency is worst hit by the activities of the armed men, lamented that food crisis is already staring 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 the farm. They have sold all their farm produce to pay ransom for the release of their loved ones.

“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,” he said.

He, therefore, suggested that the only solution to the current security situation is for the military and other security services to show more commitment and determination to battle the insurgents.

BENUE

With the start of the farming season, there is great apprehension in Benue State over the fate of farmers in the face of the incessant attacks that have left hundreds of thousands of them in internally displaced persons (IDP) camps for several years.

The state which is known as the food basket of the nation no longer takes pride in that name because the farming population has been seriously depleted, occasioned by both internal and external aggressions. IDP camps in Benue State are yet to be closed down and from all indications it doesn’t look like they will be closed down anytime soon.

Executive Secretary of Benue State Emergency Management Agency, BENSEMA, Dr Emmanuel Shior, in a recent chat with newsmen, lamented the humanitarian challenge facing the state as a result of the continued stay of IDPs in camps.

According to Shior, the number of IDPs in the state is close to two million because more villages are still being attacked. The people cannot return to their ancestral homes as a result of the attacks.

Kenneth Hindan is one of the over 11,000 IDPs currently taking refuge at the Ortese IDP camp, with his two wives and seven children. 

Although he strongly desired to return to his village, to restart his farming business, Hindan said that he could not take such deadly risk now, because the armed Fulani herdsmen who chased them away from their ancestral homes in April 2021 were still very much around.

Another IDP, Tersoo Monday, who stays at the Abagana Camp, is afraid to go back to farm this year. 

He explained: “Some of the people from my village who tried to return home to farm last year were chased out by the herdsmen who are still occupying our village. Some were even killed in the process while others escaped with injuries. So, I’m afraid to take that risk.”

KOGI

Though only few parts of Kogi State have so far experienced serious rainfall, farmers are beginning to prepare to plant maize, cassava, millet and groundnut. 

In the state, clashes between farmers/herders occur frequently and have led to the loss of hundreds of lives. The situation has also led to the scarcity of foodstuff in the confluence state, resulting in steep rise in prices, out of the reach of the common man. For two consecutive years, the National Bureau of Statistics rated Kogi State as one with the highest inflation rate on commodities.

Narrating the pain of losing 8,000 heaps of cassava to the herders, a farmer, Eneojo Ojodale, blamed Governor Yahaya Bello for the influx of Fulani herdsmen into the state and described him as heartless and insensitive to the plight of farmers in the state.

His words: “Last year alone in Dekina, my community, Fulani herdsmen killed over 42 farmers and destroyed their farmlands without any compensation. We ran to the government, but it did nothing. Instead, the police will always extort us and at the end of the day release the Fulani herdsmen because they are afraid of Governor Yahaya Bello, who openly invited all the headsmen to come to Kogi because he was looking for Buhari’s favour.”

On further inquiry on the efforts of the state government to help the farmers in this planting session, an officer in the Ministry of Agriculture (name withheld) said: “So far, the government has done nothing. My brother since 2016 when this administration came on board, the fertilisers, free seedlings and all the incentives we used to give to farmers have stopped. As for now, there’s practically nothing on ground to aid the farmers in this year’s farming season.”

KADUNA

Even in the face of mindless killing going on in Kaduna State, maize farmers have chosen to repose faith in God and start farming. 

The Kaduna State chapter Chairman, Maize Association of Nigeria, Alhaji Ahmed Waziri, said that farmers were ready to start clearing the lands for this year’s farming season despite the raging insecurity.

He said that farmers affected by insecurity were no longer in internally displaced persons (IDP) camps, adding that the camps had been closed.

Debunking claims of food scarcity, he said: “There is no food shortage reported anywhere, the only thing is that the price is high, but this is because of global price of commodities not because of shortage of the produce. Maize Association of Nigeria will soon sell off their maize pyramid and by the grace of God the price will come down and be affordable.”

 KWARA

At a recent event in Kwara State, Governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq expressed the readiness of the state government to boost farm activities in the current season. 

He reiterated that his administration remained committed to promoting food security and guaranteeing the people’s access to necessary foodstuff.

Not less than 10,000 farmers of all categories have so far benefitted from the empowerment programme of the state government in the area of agriculture.

In an address read on his behalf by the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Prof Mamman Sabaji, the governor said: “It is not just about food security in Kwara State, but in Nigeria as a whole. Farmers are farming largely without any problem in Kwara. We only need to support them. The aim is to achieve food security in Nigeria, not just Kwara, from animal husbandry to all other facets of agriculture.

“The government has acquired 15 new tractors and two bulldozers, to assist the farmers in clearing and preparing large tracts of farmland for cultivation, and make the agricultural sector better. We also distributed improved seeds, assorted fertilisers and chemicals at subsidised rates to no fewer than 10,000 registered farmers in the state.”

The government has also made substantial investments for the smooth take-off of Special Agro-industrial Processing Zone (SAPZ) and the establishment of milk collection centres across the state, in collaboration with FrieslandCampinaWAMCO.

In addition, the administration has paid the counterpart fund to secure a smooth take off of the FADAMA NG-CARES programme to cushion the effect of COVID-19 pandemic on vulnerable agro-businesses in the state.

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However, these efforts are being hampered by insecurity birthed by insurgency in the country. A seasoned farmer, Mr Joel Adesina, told Sunday Sun: “One of the greatest challenges facing farming is the nefarious activities of the herdsmen and other gunmen in the state. In the past, a farmer would go to the farm and spend many months in the farm before coming home without any fear of insecurity. This boosted productivity, but it is not possible today because of insecurity.”

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A group, Omo Ibile Igbomina, an association of Igbomina people, said that six trailer loads of herders arrived in the area recently. Even before the arrival of the new comers, farmers had been clashing with herders who seemed to take delight in grazing their cattle in farms.

Former spokesman of Omo Ibile Igbomina, Oni Martin, lamenting the menace of the armed herders: “Farming remains our foremost economic activity, but it has become endangered, arising from mindless criminality, impunity and wanton destruction of crops and human lives right on our ancestral soil. We had a day when this gang of heartless strangers killed our people in broad daylight on a particular market day in Oro-Ago town, for instance.

“We have series of reports of herdsmen chasing our farmers out of their farms, for daring to challenge them for feeding their beasts with their source of living. The herdsmen arm themselves with array of terribly sharpened cutlasses and AK-47 assault rifles. They have taken over our forests and farmlands; our people living in fear of being kidnapped or killed. The result is that food production has drastically fallen, creating scarcity while prices have skyrocketed.”

ANAMBRA

Despite the saddening news coming out of Anambra State currently, with gunmen burning local government secretariats, farmers in Ayamelum, Anambra East, Anambra West, Awka North and Ogbaru Local Government Areas of the state, farmers have started cultivating food crops.

However, they face a major challenge as Sunday Sun learnt from the Chairman, Community Empowerment Network (COMEN), Ayamelum chapter, John Udemezue, a farmer, who said: “Of course, the people of Ayamelum are ready for this year’s farming. But the problem is that the support that comes from the government is hijacked by those we describe as political farmers. When they hijack the process, the real farmers are relegated to the background. That is the problem we usually encounter every farming season. But at the individual level, we are always ready to farm and we take it very seriously. We embark on farming activities with or without government’s support.

 “These political farmers formed cooperative societies and are using the societies to hijack what is due to the real farmers. Sometime in 2019, some traders in Onitsha Main Market stormed Ayamelum with their buses fully loaded.

“They took pictures and posed as farmers. After that, they left. I saw it myself. After they took pictures, they went back to where they came from. What now happens is that if there is any loan or anything for farmers, they hijack it.

“We have already commenced farming. We started as early as February/March. Part of the problems we have with the government is the non-availability of tractors.

They usually bring tractors to us very late. Sometimes they will bring the tractors around June whereas we need them in February or latest March. The terrain is usually slippery during the rainy period.

 “So, if the government truly wants to support farmers, they should bring the seedlings and other agricultural inputs on time and give them to the real farmers. There is also the need for timing. They should ask the real farmers when they usually begin their farming activities each year. You can’t bring cassava stems to farmers in December, when do you want them to plant the stems?”

GOMBE

Upcountry in Gombe, the state government is working to provide fertilizers and other farming inputs for farmers in the state to participate in the 2022 wet season farming.

According to the state’s Commissioner of Agriculture and Animal Husbandry, Muhammad Magaji Gettado, preparations for the cropping season have reached top gear. 

“Our plans are to provide improved seeds and seedlings of high qualities that can produce a minimum of three to four tons per hectare,” Gettado said, adding that farmers would receive fertilizers by the second week of May.

“Our government is doing everything possible to get a minimum of 10,000 metric tons of fertilizers for our farmers. The other thing is the environment, you know, you must have a conducive environment in other to be able to go to the farms, so, we are doing everything possible to ensure that a conducive environment is created between the farmers and herders and others so that farmers will be able to cultivate their farms without fear,” the commissioner said.

TARABA

There is optimism in Taraba State, where farmers hope to record bumper harvest this year, following the state government’s efforts at tackling insecurity that has plagued farmers over the last few years.

In a chat with Sunday Sun, Deputy National Vice Chairman of Yam Producers Association of Nigeria, Mr Jerry Tyolanga, noted that the ethnic crisis in the southern zone of the state greatly affected yam production specifically, and farming activities generally, as farmers were displaced.

His words: “The truth is that farming was greatly affected in the last few years, mostly in Southern Taraba because of the ethnic crisis, but also in other parts of the state due to attacks by herdsmen who destroyed many farms and stopped a lot of people from going to farm.

“That is why the prices of foodstuff have been on the rise and affecting security. However, with what we have seen so far, I think this year things would be a lot better. So far, we have seen remarkable improvement in security and there is less tension in the crisis-torn areas. We want to believe that security agencies would be proactive enough to forestall herdsmen attacks on villages that is usually most pronounced during the farming season.”

Another farmer, Mr Joseph Mador, however, stressed that some of the farmlands where people were displaced in previous years by the herdsmen are still no go areas.

“I use to farm at Borno Kuru Kuru. As we speak now, the herdsmen are still making it nearly impossible for the people to go back and settle for the season. We still have cases of killings once people attempt to go back. They seem to be behaving as if they have conquered the land and it now belongs to them. If nothing is done deliberately by the authorities to tackle that issue, the whole of that area may not be cultivated this year and the farmers would still be just as stranded.

“Usually, when people’s lands are confiscated like this, they run to other areas and add more pressure on the available land there and that often creates more tension that often escalates to crisis, but if everyone is allowed to operate in their domain, there would be less pressure on the available land and less crisis.

“The government may provide all the fertilizer and seeds, but if you don’t have land or are not assured of your security, how will you go to the farm knowing it could cost you your life. For most farmers, all they need is security and I don’t think that is too much to ask of the government and security agencies.”

While most of the displaced persons have deserted the IDP camps, especially those in and around Jalingo, most of the people are said to have simply integrated and are staying with relatives or gotten new apartments around the towns since they have denied access to their ancestral homes.

Mr Emmanuel Tyonongo, an IDP from Wukari, who is currently taking refuge in Kyado in Benue State was shocked when the Taraba State Deputy Governor, Alhaji Haruna Manu, said that recently that the state has no IDPs.

“It is surprising that the deputy governor who supervises the peace committee initiated by the governor to resettle people in Chonku and Asa chiefdoms is now claiming ignorance that the state has IDPs. 

“Both Chonku and Asa chiefdoms have Tiv people in the majority who are displaced. Currently there are no people (both Tiv and Jukun) along the border communities. By the time the national boundary commission will come for sensitization, the truth will be revealed,” he said.

Mr Samson Tor-Musa reacting to the issue said: “There are IDPs in Wukari Local Government Area. In Chonku Chiefdom, for instance, the headquarters of the chiefdom, Chonku, has been unoccupied since 2019 when the crisis between the Jukun and the Tiv broke out.

“The entire Tiv villages in Chonku, Rafinkada, Tsokundi, Jibu, Assa, and parts of Kente and Sondi chiefdoms in Wukari Local Government Area have been unoccupied since 2019. There are also IDPs in Donga, Takum and some LGAs in the central zone,” he said.

Mr Istifanus Yakubu, who was displaced when herdsmen attacked villages around Kona told our correspondent that his home and the surrounding areas are still red zones.

“What I did was to try and rent my own apartment here in Mayodasa. My village has been taken over by the killer herdsmen who do not hesitate to kill even women and children who try to go back to our ancestral homes. For now we try to do small farms around the surrounding areas here just to get by.”

However, the state governor, Darius Ishaku, has assured that the state government is doing everything possible to make this year’s farming season very productive for farmers and the entire state.

Mr Bala Dan Abu, spokesman to the governor told our correspondent that the government understands the need to make sure that all farmers safely return to their farms and are fully protected and encouraged.

“The previous years were very difficult for farmers because of the crisis. What we are doing so far is to ensure security of the farmers. To that effect, the state government recently bought and distributed several operational vehicles to security agencies in the state to increase security surveillance in the crisis prone areas. We are working hard to make sure that those people who were displaced all return to their various places to resume their normal lives. We have achieved a lot in that regard but there is clearly more to be done and we are not resting until we achieve our target.

“Another area we are focusing attention on is the provision of farm inputs and improved seedlings. So far, the state government through the Ministry of Agriculture has concluded arrangements for the acquisition of fertilizers and chemicals as well as improved seedlings to be distributed to farmers as early as possible. This has become a routine and we would continue to do that to encourage our people to go back to the farms,” Dan Abu said.

KEBBI

In Kebbi State, attacks by bandits in few communities in Zuru and Yauri emirates have not totally deterred farmers from going to their farms. Out of 21 local government areas in the state, only few local governments which have common boundaries with Zamfara and Niger states are experiencing banditry.

Local government areas like Bunza, Argungu, Augie, Aliero, Jega, Maiyama, Suru, Bagudo and Koko-Basse, where dry and wet season farming occur are still producing large qualities of rice, maize, pepper, tomatoes and onion, among other food crops.

To support them the state government has distributed 112,500 bags of fertilisers to farmers in 225 wards across the 21 LGAs in the state. 

Sunday Sun learnt from the Commissioner of Agriculture, Alhaji Maugari Abdulllahi  Dakingari that each received 500 bags of assorted fertilizers at a cost of N6,000 per bag.

EDO

Herdsmen/farmers clashes constitute a threat to food production in Edo State as several farm settlements in Ovia North East, Orhionmwon Local Government Areas and other parts of the state came under the attack of AK47-wielding herdsmen.

The farmers, particularly in Ovia, had to flee their communities amid calls on the state government to come to their aid following the attack by the herdsmen, who allegedly fed their cows with the farmers’ crops.

While launching the new planting season recently, the government assured farmers that it would provide adequate security that would reduce the incidence of clashes between farmers and herdsmen, which have hampered farming activities in the state.

 RIVERS

With the boldness characteristic of Governor Nyesom Wike, farmers in Rivers State are undaunted by the security challenges in the state and are determined to grow food crops.

Mr. Andrew Atu, an agronomist and training officer with International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), based in Ibadan, Oyo State, in an interaction with Sunday Sun, said: “Here in Rivers State, the farmers are much more ready for the farming season, both for cassava, beans, plantain, yam and all those crops doing well in this state. Farmers are ready and have purchased their cassava stems.

“But, the challenges they are facing include the high cost of the farming inputs they need. The price of the fertilizer is very high; so also the price of the herbicide. Besides, there are no tractors and even if they see, it is costly to hire one.”

He, however, conceded that the Rivers State government has been working to incorporate farmers and noted that the establishment of the cassava processing factory by has been useful to farmers in the state.

Another farmer, Mr. Green Isaac, is an agro dealer and coordinator of farm inputs services in the state, who is quite happy with the level of preparation of and eagerness of farmers to commence cultivation, but is disturbed they have not received the desired support from relevant government agencies, especially in the area of subsidizing farm inputs.  

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