Food scarcity is imminent across the nation, following a drastic reduction in food production as a result of insecurity in different parts of Nigeria. Apart from the impact of the activities of the Boko Haram in the North East, which have displaced thousands of agrarian communities, farming activities have also come under threat in the middle belt and southern regions owing to the menace of Fulani herdsmen. In recent weeks, the armed herdsmen who are now found in almost every community in the South -East, South- South and South- West geo-political zones have clashed with farmers, a situation that has resulted in the death of several persons in the hands of suspected Fulani herdsmen.
As a corollary, various groups in Southern Nigeria such as the Ohaneze Ndigbo, Movement for Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and the Odua People’s Congress (OPC) have issued ultimatums, demanding the exit of the herdsmen from their lands.
This has reduced the movement of cattle and foodstuff to markets in the southern part of the country, as the Hausa/ Fulani traders have become apprehensive that they might be attacked by the aggrieved people of Southern Nigeria. Our correspondents gathered that while many farmers in the South had abandoned their farmlands for security reasons, traders from the North have cut down on the quantity of cattle, rice, beans and vegetables they move down to the South for sale. The result has been an unprecedented increase in prices of these staple foods in the market.
Few cows, fewer tomatoes
“Usually, 200 Peugeot J5 model buses leave the Kaduna Central Market with baskets of tomatoes to Kogi, Edo and Delta states everyday during the peak season between December to March,” Malam Idris Sherrif, the National chairman of Vegetable Farmers Association of Nigeria, told one of our correspondents. In the same vein, 400 Tangle lorries and about 500 Peugeot J5 Models go to Lagos alone, Sherrif said. “Mile 12 Market alone used to absorb 80 trailers of tomatoes, apart from other vegetables like onions, chillies and hot pepper every day.’’
However, in the last few years, the volume of sales, even within the North, has dwindled and the cost of vegetables has increased, Malam Idris has lamented. “Right now, the situation is worse because this is not the season for tomatoes,” he said.
Before now, a basket of tomatoes costs just N3,000 during the dry season, but the same quantity now sells for between N10,000 to N20,000, depending on the supply. “In the South, the price increase will be more because the number of lorries that convey the commodities to the region has reduced drastically because of the recent threats that northerners face, owing to the order given by some groups that herdsmen should leave their areas,’’ Sheriff said.
According to him, most of the dealers were afraid of going down to the South because of the threat of the Oodua Peoples Congress and the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign States of Biafra who were peeved by the recent attack in Ukpabi- Nimbo, Uzo Uwani Local Government Area of Enugu State. A prominent cattle dealer at Zango Cattle Market, Alhaji Muhammad Abubakar, said that cattle dealers are wary of going to the South in recent times. “The recent threat by southerners that our people should leave their area has made even the few who used to go there to be apprehensive. Some traders are still plying their trades but majority have adopted a wait-and-see attitude,” he said.
In Nasarawa State, farmers have complained about the disruption of farming activities by the herdsnen and raised the alarm over the heavy presence of nomads and cows and destruction of crops on farmland in some parts of the state. Chairman of United Farmers Association in Kadarko in Keana Local Government Area in the state, complained that attacks and mischief by Fulani cattle on farms was slowing down farming activities in the area. “We are afraid of going to farm freely because there are many Fulani people grazing around our farms with guns and destroying crops.
I am calling on government to do something urgently about this to enable us go to farm without any fear of being attacked,” he said. National President of Middle Belt Youth Development Organisation, Chris Aba, who spoke to Sunday Telegraph in Lafia, expressed concern that food shortage was imminent in the region if attacks on farmers by suspected Fulani herdsmen were not stopped. Aba took a swipe at the Federal Government’s idea to create ranches for Fulani herdsmen, arguing that any person or group of persons in Africa or Nigeria that does not inherit any land should be treated as a foreigner.
In Benue State, referred to as the Food Basket of the Nation, farmers and residents have expressed apprehension over imminent famine and starvation if urgent measures were not taken by both the federal and state governments to end the intractable attacks on farmers by suspected Fulani herdsmen..
Vice Chairman, All Farmers Association of Nigeria, (AFAN), controlling Benue and North East, Mr. Terfa Yalu, stated that 80 per cent of the Benue population depends largely on agriculture, which is mostly done at a subsistence level, and noted that if urgent measures are not initiated with a view to ending the feud, the country will be confronted with serious food scarcity. “I am foreseeing a situation in Benue State where famine and starvation are likely to strike due to the incessant attacks on farmers. You can see that the farmers who are producing the food and even exporting to other countries are being massacred like animals by the Fulani insurgents and when these farmers are not there, then it means there will be hunger in the land”.
“Let me tell you, Benue State is widely known as the food basket of the nation and when the farmers are killed or their crops destroyed, it will definitely give rise to famine, hunger and starvation”, Yalu predicted.
The AFAN helmsman, who said the Fulani attacks was a deliberate ploy to destabilise the present administration at all levels by those who do not mean well for it, said it was capable of frustrating foreign investors from doing businesses in the country. He commended steps taken by the President Mohammadu Buhari administration so far to end the imbroglio. He said it was unfortunate that many women and children who are of school age have greatly been affected in the attacks, and expressed concern that the attacks have come when the country was nursing the bruises it sustained from the deepening economic down turn.
A combination of factors is at work to unleash unprecedented famine on the people of South-East geo-political zone. One of the factors is the late and irregular rain fall this season followed by a reduction in the volume of foodstuff transported from the northern parts of the country to the area.
The shortage was due to widespread communal clashes between farmers and Fulani herdsmen across the country. The greatest factor, especially as it affects the zone, is the abandonment of farms by farmers in agricultural areas of Enugu State for fear of attacks by Fulani herdsmen. Although kidnapping, rape, armed robbery and killing of farmers are some of the vices the Fulanis were accused of perpetrating in the zone over the years, these vices seem to have quadrupled this year.
The worst being the killing of farmers and rape of their women by suspected Fulani herdsmen. For instance, a community leader from Ukpabi-Nimbo and former Chairman of Uzo-Uwani local government area, Chief Danniel Okweli, told our reporter that the Fulani people have killed up to six of their farmers in the last four years.
“For two decades now, we have been living in fear. Our people are now hungry because we can’t go to farm again. If their cattle destroy our farm and you complain, they will tell you it is not their cattle. But when you kill their cattle, they will kill human beings.
They value their cattle more than human life,” he lamented. Similarly, the member representing Nsukka East Constituency in Enugu State House of Assembly, Chinedu Nwamba, said: “These days, from my research, many people no longer go to farm. This is a very dangerous trend that is about happening to the Igbos because nobody is free to go to farm again. So in due time, we are going to face hunger because of incessant attacks by the Fulani herdsmen on our people.
“And the major cause is that they are allowed to move from one place to another. If they are being restricted from moving from one place to another they will not see anybody to rob, they won’t see people to kidnap, they won’t see people to destroy their crops, they won’t see crops to destroy. So people are no longer going to farm in Enugu state for fear of cattle rearers.”
Nwamba told our correspondent that he is currently working on “A Bill For A Law to make provisions for the Control of Nomadic Cattle Rearing in Enugu State and Other Matters Related thereto: The Enugu State Control of Nomadic Cattle Rearing Law, 2016”. Uzo-Uwani is one of the foremost agricultural local government areas of the state. With farmers in many communities of the council abandoning their farms this year, there is no doubt that it will seriously lead to decline in agricultural output this year.
But the problem is not restricted to Uzo-Uwani. In fact, at various times, other local government areas in the state have allegedly had their own fair share of violent attacks and rape of their women in their farm, making them to abandon their farms for fear of being killed. Prominent among the local governments where the clash has become pronounced is Awgu, another area where 90 per cent of residents are predominantly farmers. Just last month, 78 youths and men of Ugwuleshi community in the local government were arrested by the military for allegedly waging ‘war’ against Fulani herdsmen.
The Traditional Prime Minister of the community, Chief Stephen Onuoha, who spoke to our correspondent on telephone, said that military men numbering over 50 and armed-to-teeth invaded his community and started arresting everybody they saw.
“On the whole, over 78 persons, mainly young men, were arrested and taken to Abia State. As a matter of fact, from 2010 till date, Fulani herders have been troubling us. We have made appeals to their leaders and we have written to various institutions of government, which include the police, Directorate of State Security, Awgu Council Chairman, Enugu State House of Assembly, Enugu State Government, Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, and member representing our people in the Federal House of Representatives, Hon. Tobi Okechukwu, complaining about the manner the Fulani herdsmen move their cattle to the farm and destroy our crops after farming.
“We had so many reconciliation meetings, yet, every season, they destroy our crops. We don’t have any other business than farming and our lives depend on it. However, in 2014, one of our brothers went to the farm, the Fulani herdsmen killed him not only that, they severed his body, put him in a sack and dropped him inside the river. This matter was reported at the Divisional Police Station in Awgu, but nothing happened,” he said.
In Delta State, several agrarian communities are now apprehensive of what this year’s farming season holds for them in view of the activities of the Fulani herdsmen. Last year, clashes between farmers and the herdsmen were rampant and in some cases, resulted in fatalities. The incessant conflict between herdsmen and their host communities hit its climax on January 5, 2015, when some armed Fulani herdsmen reportedly kidnapped the paramount ruler of Ubulu- Uku in Aniocha South Local Government Area of the state.
The monarch, HRM Akaeze Edward Ofulue III, was subsequently murdered by his captors and his body dumped in the bush. The corpse was discovered 15 days later. But even the outcry that followed that gruesome incident did not prevent the herdsmen from wrecking more havoc in other communities in the state. In fact, the apparent inaction of the government and its security agencies may have emboldened these herdsmen as they simply moved on to other communities in the state. In September last year, three persons were killed when some Fulani herdsmen attacked farmers in Amoji , Onicha-Ukwuani, Ndokwa West Local Government Area of Delta State. The conflict was ignited when the herdsmen allowed their cattle to stray into the community’s farmlands, destroying a lot of crops in the process.
A group of eight young men had earlier been massacred by a band of Fulani herdsmen at Ogume, Ndokwa-West LGA while a 30-year old palm wine tapper was also killed by the herdsmen in Ofagbe, Isoko North Local Government Area of Delta State.
There are herdsmen in almost every community across the three senatorial districts of the state and everywhere they go, their story has been that of forceful occupation of community lands, de-
struction of farm crops and violence against any host community who dares challenge their effrontery.
These incidents have forced the various communities to issue eviction notices to the herdsmen. But rather than leave these communities, the herdsmen merely retreated deeper into the forests where they graze their cattle.
While occupying the farms, these herdsmen also help themselves with the farm produce, leaving the farmers with nothing but hunger and sorrow. In Onicha-Ukwuani for instance, the herdsmen took over the farmlands in Amoji, Ibabu and Ugiliamai communities for the most part of last year and farmers could not venture into their farms for fear of being killed. One of the farmers, Ojebo Olise, told Sunday Telegraph that he lost all his corn and yams to the herdsmen because there was no way to get to the farm without encountering the armed herdsmen.
“They took over our farms around the month of July and that was about the time we were just waiting for the fresh corn to mature. They occupied the whole place and despite our cry to the Local council and state government authorities, they remained inside the bush waiting to kill whoever would come to challenge them. “The result is that we lost out in terms of the harvest from last year’s farming season.
Imagine planting your yams and not being able to weed the grass and attend to the crops. At the end of the day, we lost everything,” he said. Olise told Sunday Telegraph that at the moment, the situation has not changed significantly because even though the communities have again asked the Fulani herdsmen to leave, there were still reports that they were being sighted in some remote forests.
“Many of our people are still not confident going back to their farms because of the presence of these herdsmen. We want the Delta State Government to step into the matter by ordering these herdsmen to leave our farmlands. We are predominantly farmers who depend on our farm produce for the sustenance of our families. If herdsmen are allowed to take over our lands by force, how do we produce food for our families and have some surplus to sell to earn some income?
We want the state government to look into this matter and avoid violent conflicts with these herdsmen. We want our people to return fully to their farms without having fears that they might be attacked by herdsmen,” he said. Just last week, the people of Obiaruku community, Ukwuani Local Government Area, Delta State asked the Fulani herdsmen in their community to leave with immediate effect. The eviction order was announced at a town- hall meeting after eight people were allegedly kidnapped by the herdsmen.
It was resolved that the herdsmen must leave so that the farmers in the community could return to their farmlands. Like in other parts of the state and by extension the South South geo-political zone, the presence of the herdsmen was hindering normal farming activities and have become a threat to security and public peace.
The General Manager, Climate Service, Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NiMet), Mr. Joseph Alozie, said the extended dry season and excessive heat being experienced this time in the country was expected, saying however that it is not forever.
He said that the changes is responsible for the hot weather, heat, dry conditions and dusty environment, adding that the long dry season is about coming to an end as the rainy season sets in. According to him, the hot weather is the result of the changes in the atmosphere. He pointed that though weather was excessively hot this year and the dry season a bit long, “You will start to think of serious negative if it is followed by very low rainfall, but only agriculturist will say what they are expecting this year.