A farmer, Sunday Ahmed and two of his friends were working on Ahmed’s farms at Owobamigbe village in the Akure South Local Government Area of Ondo State on January 21, 2020, when some herdsmen allegedly appeared with cattle to graze on the farm. But Sunday and his friends resisted them especially as they had just planted some crops.
A fight ensued and the armed herdsmen overpowered Ahmed and his friends. The two friends fled to inform members of the community but Ahmed was unable to escape and he was allegedly seriously inflicted with machete cuts by the herders.
Ahmed said, “On that day, around 2 pm, I was working on the farm alongside two of my friends when we suddenly saw the herdsmen leading their cattle into my farm. We challenged them to get the cows away from the farm. But instead of leaving, they brought out machetes and started chasing us. It was when I fell down while running that they inflicted machete cuts on my leg. The herders were three and armed.”
Similarly, in Obasooto community in the Idanre Local Government Area of the state, another farmer identified as Idowu Olatuja is counting losses as some herders took their cows to graze on his farm. The cows allegedly ate up the cassava, pineapple, plantain and cocoyam in his farm in one night. He said he wept like a baby when he got to his farm the next day and saw the level of destruction done by the cows.
Olatuja added, “The herdsmen first invaded my wife’s farm with their cows 10 days earlier and returned to destroy my farm and the rest of my wife’s farm.”
Apart from grazing cows in farms, some criminal herdsmen have been accused of kidnapping, killing, maiming and raping in many parts of the South-West. The situation led to the order by the Ondo State governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, to the herdsmen on January 18, 2021, to vacate forest reserves within seven days. The governors in the region also met with the leadership of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria over the matter and agreed to ban all forms of open grazing in the South-West. The governors had earlier established Amotekun through the Western Nigeria Security Network to tackle the festering insecurity in the region.
Killer herdsmen were said to be responsible for the death of Mrs Funke Olakunri, daughter of the leader of the Yoruba socio-cultural organisation, Afenifere, Chief Reuben Fasoranti, in 2019, a former captain of the country’s scrabble team, Paul Sodje and ex-Assistant Registrar of the Federal University of Technology, Akure, Pastor Amos Arijesuyo.
Some farmers in the state have lamented the destruction of their farms by herdsmen, noting that the development was threatening farming. A former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Chief Olu Falae, has been a victim of criminal herders. Apart from being kidnapped in 2015, Falae, who is also a former Minister of Finance, was said to have lost a substantial amount of money to the herdsmen.
In a recent interview, Falae said, “It is 32 years that I started operating the farm. And the cattle and their owners became a veritable threat or tool for harassment in the last four to five years. At first, they would come in the night to drink water. We were tolerant and they did not stay there.
“We told them, just drink water and go; I did not allow them. Later, they would come in the night, eat our maize and go. I complained to their people more than 10 times. Later still, elements of the same people kidnapped me. They burnt the non-crop area because the grass was already dry. Cows don’t eat dry grass. They burnt it so that fresh grass will grow. They were already breeding my grass as if it was their land.”
Also in a Save our Soul letter to the Commander of Amotekun, Chief Adetunji Adeleye, Falae urged the security outfit to save his farm from the incessant invasion by herdsmen. It was gathered that over 100 people work on the farm and any attack on it could affect their livelihoods.
The letter titled, “Attacks on my farm by Fulani herdsmen,’’ read, “In the last few weeks, Fulani herdsmen came into my maize farm twice to eat up and trample large sessions of the farm. I reported the incidents to the state Chairman, Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, Alhaji Garba Bello, nothing has happened.
“In the last few days, they have gone to attack my citrus farm by stealing harvested oranges and destroying what they could not carry away. The police on security duty on the farm were sent to drive them away. But they have been coming back every night to attack my workers in our camp, breaking their doors and carting away all belongings. Please let Amotekun save us and our livelihood. They kidnapped me on September 21, 2015; they should not be allowed to do it again.”
Some communities in the state such as Owobamigbe, Oke Eko, Odoripo, Ogunti and Igbagba among others in the Akure South Local Government area have come under attacks by the criminal herders.
A community head and farmer, Mr Michael Olorunda, said he left the village to the urban centre after cows destroyed his farms located at Itagba community, a suburb of Akure, the state capital. Olorunda said he had lost crops worth millions of naira to the destruction.
He said, “I planted cassava and cocoyam on my farm but herdsmen invaded it and uprooted them to feed their cows. If we challenge their action they bring out arms to attack us.”
Another farmer in Owobamigbe village, Mr Anthony Sunday, said for two weeks he and members of his family had stopped going to his farm.
He said, “We have not been able to go to our farm because armed herdsmen have occupied the land doing what they like on it. I planted yams, cocoyam and cassava but the cows ate all. My child sustained machete cuts when he tried to stop some armed herdsmen from destroying our farms. He was hospitalised. We live in fear and to go to the farm is a problem.”
Mrs Mary John is another farmer enduring the pain of the destruction of her farm by herdsmen.
She said she could no longer farm, adding “Life has been tough as we can’t go to our farms to work. There is no money to feed my children. The government should look into this matter. We are not safe at all. The fear of herdsmen is gripping our communities.’’
For Mr Ade Gerige, his over 1,000 heaps of cocoyam and cassava were destroyed by cows led to his farm by herdsmen. He said he cried many times to those in government, noting that nothing was done to save him and his colleagues from incessant attacks by criminal herdsmen.
He stated, “For the past two weeks, we have not been able to go to the farm because herdsmen have taken over it. If one plants anything, they would go there in the night and destroy it. Even in our house, we don’t sleep soundly because they (herdsmen) can attack us at night. They are dangerous. We want the government to intervene in this matter.”
A widow and farmer, Mrs Paulina Matthias, who lost her husband four years ago, was not left out of the menace of the criminal herdsmen. She told our correspondent that she used to feed and pay her children’s school fees from the proceeds from her farm, adding that she could no longer do that after some herdsmen allegedly destroyed her farm feeding their cows with her crops.
She further stated that in the last few months cows ate up what she planted on her farm when the crops had reached the harvesting stage. She disclosed that cocoyam and cassava were the major crops she planted in large quantities for domestic and commercial purposes.
Matthias while narrating her ordeal said, “Fulani herders always led their cows to my farm which I had been cultivating for a while. They destroyed and ate all the crops I planted on the farm. They didn’t leave anything. My children and I had relied solely on what we planned to harvest from the farm but the herdsmen heartlessly and wickedly shattered the plan. Now, we don’t know how we will survive.
“I am a widow. My husband died in 2017. He was killed by some hoodlums who took his motorcycle after he had dropped our children in school. Till today, we didn’t know those who killed him.”
Asked if she knew cows destroyed her farms, Matthias said, “I started living in Owobamigbe village in 1999 when I got married. I know when cows enter a farm and their pattern of destruction. It was not like this before but in recent times they started their wicked activities. I am convinced that cows destroyed the farm because their faeces and footprints are on the farm. In fact, the herders uprooted the cassavas and yams to feed the cows.’’
The herdsmen were also said to have heavily dealt with another farmer who identified himself only as Noah. He said he had lived in Owobamigbe village for 10 years without fear of molestation until herdsmen invaded the place and instilled fear in residents in the village with their atrocious activities.
Noah said both the state government and the security agencies were unable to save them from the herders despite frequent reports to them about their criminal acts. He alleged that the herders’ plan was to forcefully chase them away from their lands and make their cows feed on them.
Noah said, “We need government’s intervention in our village because herdsmen had completely destroyed our farms. We are even scared of going into farming again with what they have done to us. After invading our farms, they also threatened us never to confront them or chase away their cows from our farms. We don’t have the capacity to fight them.”
He added, “I got to the area in 2001 and I have been farming since then. Farming is my source of livelihood. I have no other job except farming. I plant cassava, yam and cocoa. Cows ate the cassavas and yams on my farm. I became a widower in 2019 and I am struggling to cater to my children’s needs. I watch how I sleep in the house with my children because we fear attacks from the herdsmen.’’
On efforts being made by the community leaders to resolve the issue, Noah stated that the leaders in the community were aware of the development but cautious not to engage in a fight with the herdsmen.
He said, “We have reached out to the Amotekun Corps and the police but they are not responding to our cries. One of our leaders in the community, Michael Olorunda, has tried a lot. When the farms were destroyed, he took photographs of the affected farms and submitted them at the office of the Amotekun Corps but no security agent came to the place. The herdsmen have become more daring in destroying our farms as if they are the owners of the land.’’
The farmers told our correspondent that they sent petitions to Amotekun on the matter and awaiting a response from the security outfit.
Efforts to curb the menace
When contacted on the matter, the Special Adviser to the governor on Security Matters, Jimoh Dojumo, confirmed that his office received petitions from the farmers on the activities of the criminal herders. He noted that the government was dealing with the issues one after the other.
Dojumo stated “We are not ignoring the cries and petitions of the farmers but there are many petitions we received on a daily basis. We are treating the issues one after the other. Any village we have not reached, it is not that we will not reach there. Our people should bear with us. They should be a bit patient with us. We will get there and resolve the matter.
“Governor Akeredolu has issued an order and we are going to enforce it to ensure our people live peacefully. There will be an end to kidnappings, killings, banditry and destruction of people’s farmlands by herdsmen.”
On his part, Adeleye said the corps had been interfering in many herdsmen/farmers’ rifts across the state. He said the corps had been sent to the affected areas to assess the level of the destruction of farmlands. He added that the state chairman of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria had been invited towards identifying and arresting herders perpetrating the acts.
“We are looking into the matter and necessary steps would be taken appropriately,” the commander said.
The state chairman of MACBAN, Alhaji Garba Bello, said the association would investigate the matter and any herder found culpable would be made to pay for whatever was destroyed.
A public affairs analyst, Mr Rotimi Ogunleye, said the Federal Government was to blame for the atrocities committed by criminal herders, saying the silence of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd), on the matter was not helping matters.
He said, “I think the president and those around him must let him know the people accused of perpetrating heinous crimes in the region. He needs to deal with this issue fiercely and transparently. The Fulani and the MACBAN are not helping matters at all. What have they done about counselling their members? Are there registration and deliberate effort by the legitimate Fulani in the settlements to fish out the bad eggs among them? What solution manual has the association put on the table?
“The Fulani dwell more in forests with their cows. Are the known ones helping in curbing the criminality of others? What makes the bandits and criminal elements continue the acts with daunting boldness? I think the issues are enough to create thousands of Sunday Ighohos (A Yoruba activist who chased out herders in Oyo State where killer herders were said to be tormenting residents). Simply put, where the government fails, the citizens will certainly resort to self-help.”
Also speaking, a former Commissioner of Police, Mr Samuel Adetuyi, noted that state governments should ban open grazing to avert common occurrence of farmers/herders clashes.
Adetuyi said, “I think down-to-earth strategies should be further adopted by the state and the Federal Government to curb the crimes. First, open-grazing approach to cattle rearing should be outlawed. Those who want to rear cattle, goats and rams should confine them to a location. When they are ready for sale, they can take the buyers to the markets in an approved setting. Poultry farmers do not allow their chickens to roam about. Dog rearers, grass-cutter and snail farmers carry on their business without becoming a nuisance to others. Confining their trades to a location has been a plus in their business.”
An agriculturist, Dr Wemimo Ola, said the federal and state governments needed to be more proactive about (addressing) the incessant invasion of farms by herdsmen and their cows. He urged the governor to also make pronouncements on the issue of destruction of farmlands by the herders, saying famine was inevitable if the trend continued.
Ola stated, “I commend Akeredolu for sending the herdsmen out of the government forest reserves to check their criminal activities. But he needs to make another pronouncement to ban herdsmen from allowing their cows graze on farms thereby destroying crops. If nothing is done, that means Ondo State is inviting famine this year.” Copyright PUNCH.
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