Herdsmen: Trouble looms In Bayelsa over destruction of farms

•Meetings have been held to relocate all cattle to Bayelsa Palm —Govt

The news of an unidentified Fulani herder who attacked an 18-year-old boy, Kohgi Nation, in Osuan bush of Otuoke Community in Ogbia Local Government Area of Bayelsa State, inflicting injuries on him that took doctors four hours to treat, has sparked off a social media campaign tagged “Operation chase headsmen out of Bayelsa”.

The victim was attacked with a machete, inflicting deep cuts on his fingers and head, over claims that  he stole a cow belonging to the yet-to-be identified herdsman. As if that was not enough, the blood thirsty unidentified herdsman also alledgedlly attacked the 58 years old father of the boy, Goodhead Nation, who was present when the attack on his son took place but managed to escape the attack with minor bruises on the left hand.

The Spokesman of the Ijaw Youths Council (IYC), Comrade Ebilade Ekerefe, who visited the victim at the hospital, expressed sadness over the incident, warning that he believed that the incident was an isolated one. The Nigerian Police in a statement also said it had commenced investigation into the attack yet there seems to be continued tension in parts of the State over the destruction of farms by cattle.

The situation, if not quickly arrested by security agencies, might lead to a breakdown of law and order, observers told Saturday Tribune, saying they were fed up with living in fear with the herders as they have proven to be unrepentant destroyers of farm produce.

For instance, farmers in Ogbia, Kolokuma/Opokuma, Sagbama and especially Yenagoa Local Government Areas,  have made several complaints in writing and also held street demonstrations to draw the attention of relevant security agencies and government to the destruction of their crops by cattle, but to no avail.

Investigations conducted by Tribune Tribune in some communities, including Elebele, Zarama, Nedugo/Agbia, Igbogene, Gbarantoru, Azikoro, Agudama-Epie, Okaka, revealed that, owing to the activities of herdsmen, there might be shortage of food as most of the farmers had abandoned their farms for fear of being harmed or raped by the herdsmen.

At Agudama, women who are mostly farmers recently carried out demonstrations by blocking the Mbiama-Yenagoa Road for what they described as the senseless and deliberate destruction of their farms by cows. The women leader of the community, Chief Mrs. Duenize Ogon, explained that they were surprised that neither the state government nor the police had come up with any solution for the rift between them and the herdsmen.

According to Mrs. Ogon, only the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) of Akenfa Police Station pleaded with them to be patient as the government, he said, was doing something about it. She expressed dissatisfaction with the silence maintained by security agencies over a matter that had resulted in mayhem in other parts of the country.

The Agudama-Epie women leader said that cattle regularly eat up their cassava, sweet potato and yam leaves while the herdsmen steal their plantain to feed and sometimes threaten to kill them if they are caught using chemical to spray the crops to endanger the lives of their cows.

At Elebele, the story is the same as one Victor Imori, whom our reporter met in his farm, said the herdsmen threatened to kill him and other farmers for preventing them from having access to their farms.

He said “it is very difficult to stop a group of grazing cows from entering your farm. I am calling on the state government to do something urgently or else we will take the law into our hands by defending our farms”.

In a farm located between Igbogene and Zarama Gateway, a farmer who simply gave her name as Blessing Zige from Igbogene community, said that all their farms are now camping grounds for herdsmen, noting that the cattle eat up the cassava leaves and other crops which resulted in the death of the crops. According to her, the herdsmen usually threaten them, which is why she has resorted to the use of ropes and clothing materials to tie round her farm in order to prevent the cows from entering. She added that the people who used to come and buy plots of land for farming on yearly basis could not do so this year due to the problems they encountered with herdsmen throughout 2020.

However, in spite of all these complaints, the Chairman of Cattle Dealers and Rearers Association, Bayelsa State, Alhaji Bello Muhammadu, claimed that members of his association were peace-loving most of whom, according to him, have been in the state for more than twenty years without having problems with farmers.

According to Alhaji Muhammadu, their cattle are mainly for business and not merely for grazing up and down, noting that since the state government gave them the Bayelsa Palm area as ranch, they only take the cattle to specific locations for feeding and whenever the cows stray into someone’s farm and damage it, they often compensate the owners of the affected farms.

The chairman, who also revealed that they attend regular meetings with the state government at the Government House on the issue of farmers and herdsmen, disclosed that what makes the matter very complicated is the influx of some herdsmen into the state with their cows from neighbouring Enugu, Imo, Rivers and Delta States.

On the issue of grazing and camping in Igbogene community, the chairman disclosed that it was the community Chief and the youth President that accommodated them. He further explained that they had made several attempts to ask the cattlemen there to relocate to Bayelsa Palm, saying that they refused because of the insistence of the community leaders for them to stay back which may be due to the royalties being enjoyed by them.

Muhammadu further explained that they had received a number of complaints from farmers at Igbogene, noting that he confronted the youth leader, who came up with the excuse that every Nigerian has the right to operate his or her business in any place of his choice which was why the association decided to hands off the Igbogene farmers/herders’ issue. He therefore enlightened Bayelsans that most of the cows they see grazing in the open with their young calves following them were not resident in the state and have nothing to do with his association.

Defending the allegation made against him, the Youth President of Igbogene Community, Comrade Okons Raymond, denied that any of the leaders of his community received money for allowing herdsmen to stay in their bush. He, however, recalled that long ago, individual land owners gave cattle rearers their own portions of bush to stay and graze.

Comrade Raymond equally recalled that the community Chief also gave them his land situated at the area around the Ecumenical Center then, adding that when their activities, including destruction of farms became unbearable, the land owners asked the cattle rearers to leave but they refused, stating that they pay taxes to government. He added that women in his community, including his mother, had reported the activities of the herdsmen, while he had confronted the head of the Muslim community in Igbogene and reported the matter to the police, but nothing was done. He however, warned that the leadership of Igbogene community would not be able to stop the youths if anything serious happened to the farmers because the cattle rearers usually boast daily that no one could harm them as the cows were owned by highly-placed persons in the state.

In a telephone interview, the Special Adviser to Governor Diri on Security, Mr. Agberebi Akpoebi, disclosed that the government had received several complaints from community heads over the activities of herdsmen and, most especially the destruction of their farms and farm produce.

According to Mr. Akpoebi, he led a delegation to Sampou, Ogbia, Southern Ijaw, Sagbama, Yenagoa to talk to the people not to have physical confrontation with the herdsmen, noting that government was taking drastic actions after series of meeting with the cattle rearers in order to bring them to Bayelsa Palm area which is the designated land for their business.

He stressed that open grazing would not be tolerated by the government and that several agreements were reached in the meetings which could not be disclosed for security reasons, noting that at the appropriate time they would be made known to the public by the Commissioner for Information and Orientation.

Speaking through the Police Command’s Public Relations Officer (PPRO), Superintendent of Police (SP) Asinim Butswat, the Commissioner of Police (CP), Mike Ikoli, said they were in constant touch with the communities and cattle breeders in the state.

CP Ikoli confirmed that some Divisional Police Officers in his command had been briefing him of herdsmen’s incessant invasion of farms, adding that he had been holding regular meeting with the cattle breeders to forestall a clash.

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