Beyond the surface: How herdsmen attacks deepen economic crisis

The farmers-herders clashes have lingered for a long time. The government both at the state and federal levels have come up with measures to stem the tide. But sadly, most of the measures have been largely ineffective: the clashes have continued unabated and serial anger keeps running deep. The perceived ineffectiveness has, in no small measure, deepened the crisis, leaving wounds, cut deep by unrestrained attacks, fresh. And the time bomb keeps ticking.

Experts are of the view that the approach to solving the crisis has neglected the disturbing scale of the economic havoc it has wrought. No doubt, the destruction of farms and crops, which usually manifest in the crisis has left many in economic depression, plunged many into the abyss of poverty, driven hope so far from many, taken food away from the table of many families, reintroduced some to poverty and landed families and communities in economic crisis. The ultimate result of these is a deepened economic crisis for communities, states and the Nigerian state.

As of 2016, a research by Mercy Corps, funded by the British Department for International Development (DFID) revealed that Nigeria’s economy loses up to $14 billion — well over N5 trillion — to the crisis annually. This figure is way above the combined health and education annual budget of the country and still above its 2021 capital budget. Of course, the figure should have spiked with the increased attacks, especially with the herders moving deeper into the southern part of the country.

 

For perspective, here’s a historical quip of the crisis.

Herdsmen — mostly Fulani — are nomadic. Their  history can be traced to the Futa Jalon mountains of West Africa. They are largely located in the Sahel and semi-arid parts of West Africa but due to changes in climate patterns many herdsmen have moved further south into the savannah and tropical forest belt of West Africa.

Fulani herdsmen are found in countries such as Nigeria, Niger, Senegal, Guinea, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Benin, Cote d’Ivoire and Cameroon. In Senegal, they inhabit northeastern Ferlo and the southeastern part of the country.

The arrival of the herdsmen in Nigeria could date back to the 13th and 14th centuries when they started migrating into Northern Nigeria from the Senegambia region.

After the Uthman Dan Fodio jihad, the Fulani integrated into the Hausa ethnic group. During the dry season when tsetse fly population was reduced, Fulani herdsmen begin to drive their cattle to the middle belt zone dominated by non-Hausa groups, returning to the north at the onset of the rainy season.

But while managing the herd and driving cattle, cattle grazing on farmlands sometimes leads to the destruction of crops, becoming a source of conflict between the herdsmen and farmers.

To tackle this menace, in 1978, Nigeria implemented the Land Use Act which gave the state or federal government the right to assign and lease land and also gave indigenes the right to apply and be given a certificate of occupancy to claim ownership of their ancestral lands.

Sadly, this did little to abate the clashes, which, over time, has left many human and economic scares on the victims. The tales from the middlebelt to western and eastern Nigeria have really been the same of anger, tears, destruction and death.

 

How I lost N110 million investment in farms to herders

When Olumide Abayomi, a chartered account and fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) left his job at a private equity firm in 2013 to invest heavily in agriculture, he never thought he would wake up one and day and find his lifetime savings destroyed by cows. In fact, his aim was to create a large farm able to employ hundreds of people and provide financial freedom for them. So, he did not hesitate to plug in over N110 million into a 450-acre farmland located in Osuntedo village, Osun state.

Just one day, herders attacked the farm. About 28 acres of rice and 25 acres of plantain trees were all destroyed when herdsmen invaded the farmland with their cows in 2018. Before the devastation of his farm, he was able to harvest plantain for two years, and he said harvesting was done every two weeks. Every fortnight, two to three truckloads were harvested, and “that is what the cattle ate up completely,” he said.

A farm of such magnitude would no doubt employ many people. What this destruction means is, workers had to be laid off. It further means, no more jobs, scarce and unhealthy meals which could lead to malnutrition for the workers and their families, inability to pay bills, including school fees of kids and house rents, depression, which could eventually lead to death.

For the farm’s owner, it means the hard work of many years was gone in a few hours. This could lead to depression, reintroduce him to poverty. Of course, more than half of the people living in Nigeria are in poverty, and adding more numbers to this grim stat is not what the country needs at this time.

 

Perennial attack on Falae’s farm

The case of elder statesman and former presidential candidate, Olu Falae has reoccurred so much that it’s no longer news. In 2015, the Afenifere leader was kidnapped from his farm at Ilado Village, Akure North Local Government Area of Ondo State by Fulani herdsmen who held and tortured him for days. He was eventually released after paying a ransom of about N5 million. Two years later, the kidnapers were sentenced to life imprisonment by an Ondo State High Court for the kidnap of the statesman.

After the incident, Chief Falae’s farm has witnessed periodic attacks and destruction by the marauding herders. The latest attack on his farm was carried out in November last year when cows and the herders invaded the farm, carted away crops and destroyed as many as they could. Chief Falae put the scale of the destruction at over N10 million.

 

Destruction after agreement

Despite agreement by the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association (MACBAN) to stop open and night grazing as directed by the Ondo State government, Fulani herdsmen led their cows to destroy some farms in Idanre, headquarters of Idanre Local Government Area of Ondo State.

The destruction caught the farmers unawares as it was done at night. They only met it when they arrived for the day’s farming activities in the morning. Even though there was no specific amount suggested to be the destruction’s worth, the farmers said it ran into multiples of millions of naira.

 

Attack on high institutions

Largely, no individual or group is spared by the crisis. In 2018, the herders attacked the University of Ilorin, one of Nigeria’s prestigious citadels of learning. The herders attacked and destroyed the institution’s research and training farms. According to the institution’s Vice Chancellor, Prof. Sulyman Abdulkareem, the scale of destruction ran into several millions of naira.

Prof. Abdulkareem also said the herders poisoned the institution’s dams with chemicals. So, he decided to ask all the herders resident on the campus to quit with immediate effect.

 

Benue destruction worth more than N200 billion

Benue state is one of the hotbeds of the attacks. The state has suffered increased attacks right from the infamous Agatu massacre to patches of other killing and destruction in the state.

On several fora, the residents of the state and victims have agonised on how the attacks have decimated their means of livelihood and the subsequent impact on their standard of life.

The destruction in the state is so massive that there seems to be no consensus on the financial worth of the state. But to help understand the depth of damage the attacks have caused, in 2018 when the federal government approved N10 billion as compensation for the victims of the attacks in Benue, Nasarawa and Taraba, the Benue State government said, the destruction in the state, as of then, was well over N200 billion.

 

MAGPAMAN laments destruction of N10 million maize farm

Just a few days ago, the Maize Growers Processing Marketer Association of Nigeria (MAGPAMAN) in Ekiti State said its members’ farms worth over N10 million had been destroyed by suspected herdsmen in the state.

The association said the maize farms spanning over 235 hectares of land, located in the forest reserve in Aduloju, along Ado-Ijan road, in Ado Local Government Area, were completely grazed and destroyed. The group said the investment in the farm was done with a loan of N6.6 million it secured from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).

 

Attacks unending in Enugu

The sleepy village of Ukpabi Nimbo in Uzo Uwani LGA of Enugu state came to the fore for the wrong reasons on April 25, 2016, when Fulani herdsmen attacked the community, leaving more than 40 innocent people dead and many more injured.

Ever since, the community and indeed, many more in the state, have witnessed more attacks than they have envisaged. Their crops have been destroyed and means of livelihood denied them.

Recently, in Oji-Agu in Akpugo community, Nkanu East Local Government Area of the state, the herders allowed their cows to  invade and destroy a rice farm worth over N17 million. This happened in the face of the forest guards set up by the Enugu State Government to protect the rural areas from criminal activities such as the case at hand.

This recent onslaught is just one out of many which have gone unreported, because, the victims say, reporting has not really changed anything as the authorities whose responsibility it is to protect them and their means of livelihood are equally helpless.

Beyond the economic impact, lives, ultimately, have been lost not just by slitting of throats and shooting with assault rifles, which many wonder how the herders got them, but through hunger. The impact of the crisis has sent many to their untimely graves because they could not withstand the shock of losing all what they had worked and stood for to the marauding herders.

Between 2010 and 2015, Nigeria lost 6,500 citizens and 62,000 others were displaced from their homelands in 850 recorded violent clashes between herdsmen and farmers in the Middle Belt region of the country. These deaths were more than what records show.

 

 

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