These are not the best of times for the leaders of the various farmers’ associations across the country, given their members’ ugly experiences with killer herdsmen in recent times. They are particularly miffed by what some of them described as government’s deafening silence and neglect in the face of mindless attacks and losses they are experiencing at the hands murderous herdsmen. INNOCENT DURU reports on their grievances and expectations from the federal government.
One of my members in Saki (Oyo State) once harvested yams. But before he could pack them, some herdsmen led their cows there and made them to eat up the yams. He reported to the police but got no response. The same thing happened when he harvested another set of yams, so when he harvested the yams the third time, he applied chemicals on them. The cows ate the poisoned yams and all died. The police arrested the farmer and detained him in Saki for three days before they transferred him to their headquarters in Ibadan.”
Those were the words of the Chairman of Oyo State Farmers Association, Mr Ayoola Ajibesin, as he gave a disturbing account of his members’ ordeal at the hands of vicious herdsmen terrorising the area. From his voice and countenance, one could tell the frustration he has gone through dealing with the onslaught of herders on his members. Emotion ran through his face and his voice quaked as he recalled the plight of his members.
“We have suffered immeasurable losses at the hands of herders. They have killed our members in their numbers in places like Igboora, Ibarapa North and Ibarapa Central. Not only do they kill our members, they also destroy our farms. Once they run into my members harvesting yam, they would make their cows to eat the yams. The police don’t care about our plight.
“Herdsmen’s attacks on our members are more prevalent in Oke Ogun. Our members don’t get to eat the fruits of their labour. We are tired of all this. We don’t want the government to bring herdsmen’s settlement to our area at all. The government has never even given us anything to assuage the losses we have suffered,” he said.
Besides killing and maiming hapless farmers and destroying farmlands, the atrocities of the herdsmen is said to have assumed another dimension in Benue State. According to the state’s farmers’ association chairman, Aondongu Saaku, herdsmen have also begun to poison wells to make sure that the water is not useful to the surviving farmers.
Aondongu’s voice reverberated with obvious distress as he relived the ugly experiences of his members.
He said: “In some places, they burnt houses and dropped chemicals in the wells so that the waters there would not be useful. They carry out the attacks in such a way that the farmers would not be able to regain their losses. We experience loss of human lives, loss of farmlands and loss of crops which could have been used to start fresh planting.
“Farmers are scared of going to the farms. Fish farmers are also not spared. Once the herdsmen catch them at the river bank, they kill them. But in all this, we have never received any support from the government. When we tried getting support from ANCHOR Borrowers’ Scheme, they didn’t give us anything.
“We have also got no approval for the one we are trying to get from NISSER. Our members have not only been made jobless, they have also become beggars. They are dying of hunger because they have no access to anything.
“The damage to our farms is such that it is very difficult for anything to survive now. The economic trees have been cut down and the farms are completely run down that anything remaining is mere dust.”
The District Head of Odugbehan community in Agatu Local Government Area of the state, Hon Bawa Haruna, also bemoaned what he described as “the irredeemable losses” that farmers in the area have suffered at the hands of herders.
For Bawa, who said he had witnessed gruesome killing of many of his kinsmen by deadly herdsmen, speaking out against their menace and paying for it is better than keeping quiet and pretending that all is well.
In a tone of lamentation, he said: “We have lost a huge number of farmers in Agatu to herders’ attacks. We can’t replace our fathers, mothers and children that were killed. We have no hope for the future as I talk to you now.
“It is pathetic that after all that we have suffered and lost, the federal government has not deemed it fit to give us even a seedling to put back on the farms. How can you be doing that and claim that you want to use agriculture to serve as the mainstay of the economy?
“I cannot recover what I have personally lost to the herders’ attacks. I have nothing to feed my family with. My five hectares of farmland filled with yam were destroyed. Another five hectares of rice was destroyed. One and a half hectares of kolanut was destroyed. Two hectares of cashew, two hectares of banana and so on were all destroyed by herders in one fell swoop.
“I am mentioning all these so that you can record it. I have no fear of anybody. Rather, I am prepared to die since I have lost a good number of people. The same thing has happened to countless number of my kinsmen and nobody in the central government has said ordinary sorry to us, not to talk of giving us any form of assistance.
It was also tales of sorrow, tears and blood in Delta State where the farmers’ association chairman, Umunna Anthony, described the herders’ menace as a serious issue that had dampened his members’ morale in farming.
According to Umunna, “rape is an understatement when it comes to what the herders do to our women. They simply attack people for no just reason and you can’t just ask them why they brought their cows into your farm. The most disturbing thing now is that when somebody is working on his or her farm, they would go there and kill the person. This is why we are worried.
“Once people hear that herders are around their farms, for two to three days, they would not even go close to the area. Before now, I could be coming from Abuja around 3 am and would get down at Isleleukwu and trek down to Ubulukwu. There is a settlement the herders now have in that area and that makes it difficult for people to even pass in their cars. We weren’t t seeing all that before now.
“The herders that were here before were living peacefully. But the rustlers that came from along Ughelli are the ones that are causing this havoc. They pass through Ugheli, Obiaruku, to Oghara axis.”
The story is not different in Taraba State where the farmers’ chairman, Bala Tawah, said that farms have become an abattoir where farmers are regularly slaughtered.
He said: “We have suffered a lot in the hands of herdsmen here in Taraba. Besides human lives, properties were destroyed. Farmlands have been abandoned and that has affected farming activities. If you quantify these, you will find out that it is a colossal loss.
“Our members are not going to farm anymore because many of them have been displaced. Unfortunately, we have never received any support from the federal government. If our members had received any support, they would have gone back to farm.”
More disturbing tales
The chairman of Association of Small Scale Agro Producers in Nigeria (ASSAPIN), Olaniyi believes that the government is not serious about its claim that it desires making agriculture a major income earner for the country, given the experiences of farmers at the hands of herdsmen.
He said: “Sometime ago, I planted cassava on 30 acres of land. The investment cost me so much money. One day, I got there and found that the farm had been razed by herdsmen.
“The chief of the community through whom I acquired the land told me that he had seen the havoc on my farm. He said he got the herders and they said they would pay me between N20,000 and N30,000 for the destruction of my farm. I just laughed, because I could not be chasing shadows.
“Besides, one needed to be careful of what the herders could do. They weren’t even as dangerous as they are today then, but because I have my life to live, I packed my things and left the area. I returned to Osogbo to look for another place to farm.
“In 2014, I had some contract farmers planting rice for me. One day, one of the men working for me called that I should come because herders were on the prowl. It became a police matter and I made the police to understand that the man was just working for me.
“In the long run, the man said the police gave him N30,000 as the money they collected from the herdsmen in my absence.
“Last year, a woman here in Osun lost about 30 acres of rice farm to the herders’ menace. These are the series of ugly things we experience in the farms. “
The President of Cocoa Farmers Association of Nigeria (CFAN), Adeola Adegoke also gave account of how herders have been using their farms as hideouts to carry out heinous crimes.
He said: “Most of our farmers have abandoned the farms because of the atrocities being committed by the herders. This has resulted in serious losses, because when you leave your farm and cannot observe your agronomy farming, it means when you are to apply fungicides, you will not; when you are to apply pesticides, you will not. Invariably, you are losing the farm.
“These are the issues we are grappling with as cocoa farmers. Their presence creates fear because they also rape women. Our wives and children who used to assist us are no longer going to the farm with us.
“If you look at my inauguration speech, I called on the government to come and rescue cocoa farmers from herdsmen’s attacks. As cocoa farmers, we also have other crops that we are growing. Sometimes, the herders occupy our land and kidnap people. They sometimes use our farms as hideouts, and when we see this, we as cocoa farmers run for our lives. “
Also condemning the herders’ activities, the National President of Bee Keepers of Nigeria, Dr Dokun Olagunju, said: “It is a rational and logical thinking to ask for compensation for farmers, but there is nothing like that. We have never had anything like that. Even what we want primarily is that they should stop these herdsmen from infiltrating the farmlands, especially in the rural villages where they kidnap and kill people.
“You cannot bring foreigners to my land with AK 47. How can people be on their farms and some people will just come and kill them when they had never met in life? You come to his God-given territory and kill him. That kind of thing gives one headache.
“They are not bothered about compensating farmers but they want herders to take over the nooks and crannies of the country. That kind of move is a time bomb.
“We are not into bee keeping alone. We are into integrated agriculture. The person keeping bee also engages in crop farming. Even if you are only keeping bee and you are not sure of going to farm and returning safely, it would discourage you. The whole thing is frightening. It will affect agricultural production generally because there would be a sharp fall in agricultural produce.”
Farmers demand N259 billion compensation from govt
The chairmen of the various state farmers’ associations have demanded the sum of N259 .1 billion as compensation from the federal government for the losses their members have suffered at the hands of herdsmen.
The Oyo State chair, Ajibesin, said: “We know that the government does not care about compensating us for all that we have lost. But going by the volume of what we have lost, if there should be compensation from government to farmers in Oyo State, it should not be less than N40 billion.
“Even if this amount is given, it can never replace the lives of our promising members that have been murdered by the herders.
His Delta State counterpart, Umunna, said the state does not deserve anything less than N50 billion as compensation for the losses suffered by famers in the state.
“The lives that they have taken is another issue because you cannot quantify that in monetary terms,” he said, adding: “N50 billion compensation would be a starting point for all the losses that our people have suffered at the hands of herders.
“Western countries have the highest figure of cattle rearing but you will never find their cattle on the street.
The same sum was demanded as compensation by Taraba State farmers’ chairman, Tawah.
He said: “To arrive at the value of what we have lost, we have to get the total number of displaced families. An average family has about five hectares. If you quantify the value of the crops and other things, we would be looking at about N50 billion. “
The Benue State farmers’ chairman, Aondongu, said: “We should be asking for nothing less than N45 billion from the government as compensation. This cannot be adequate but it would help our members to bounce back.
Looking at the magnitude of losses recorded by his kinsmen, the head of Odugbehan Community in Agatu LGA, Bawa Haruna, requested for N50 billion compensation for farmers in the area.
He said: “If I would ask for compensation for Agatu alone, it should be nothing less than N50 billion. I cannot estimate the losses in other 22 local government areas. Agatu is well known for farming, and when you talk of Benue State being the food basket of the nation, it is Agatu that contributes the largest part.
“Many of our people are now begging for food. We were not known for begging, but that is what our people have been reduced to. Now they are talking of taking our lands for RUGA. That is rather unfortunate and it amounts to adding insult to our injury.”
For farmers in Osun State who have had their farms destroyed by herders, Olaniyi, the ASSAPIN chair, demanded an average of N20 billion compensation. But he expressed doubt over government’s readiness to compensate farmers.
He said: “If you are waiting for compensation from government, in the next two to three years, you may not get anything. Government will query you and give you reason why the money cannot be paid. This is a country where you don’t need to bother yourself pursuing shadows.
“Even if the government comes to your farm and sees the damage, they would still be asking you questions. Even when the government wants to pay, through who are they going to pay you? Directly or through somebody or one agent?
“How are you sure the money will get to your pocket? This is why I don’t want to reply on Nigerian government for anything again. Whatever I have the capacity to do on my own, I would do.
“For a state like Osun, N20 billion should be enough to compensate affected farmers.”
Also making a request for compensation of his members, the chairman of farmers in Plateau State said they were agitating for the kind of support given to farmers in the North East.
He said: “In the North East, both subsistent and big time farmers are being compensated. That is what we also want. If we are given between N3 billion and N4 billion, it would go a long way to help our members.”
Admitting that his state has not suffered too much damage at the hands of herders, Imo State chairman of the farmers’ association, Chief Japhet Duru, said there has not been conscious codification of what farmers have lost to herders in the state, adding: “But we would be looking at the region of N100 million, because the damage is not so much as you have in places like Benue and other places where farming is very high.
“In some places like Ohaji, Ngo Okpala and some others, herders have destroyed farmers’ crops. There has been no form of compensation to the farmers by the government.”
Efforts made to get the reactions of the Presidency yielded no result at press time. The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Information, Mallam Garba Shehu, who asked our reporter to send a text to his phone had not responded to the reporter’s enquiries at press time.
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