Insurgency, Banditry, Covid-19: Famine looms, Borno, Katsina, Sokoto, Niger, Gombe, Plateau farmers warn

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“Bandits come not to only steal but also to kill farmers. If the farmers go to report in a police station of three police officers, it is meaningless.

What will they do? It is so bad that bandits also give a  condition that each family should give them a representative as part of the bandits if they don’t want to lose their cattle or farm produce.”

With these words, the Chairman of All Farmers Association of Nigeria, AFAN, Sokoto State chapter, Dr. Murtala Gagadu, in a chat with Sunday Vanguard, painted the pathetic picture of farmers in the state following sustained attacks by bandits.

He further captured the situation thus: “There are some places that are not accessible by farmers. There was a time we planted over 40 hectares of sesame, but during harvest, bandits came close to the farm and kidnapped farmers and other people. We could not go back to the farm. That was how we lost the 40 hectares of sesame.”

The case of Sokoto is not different from happenings in Borno, Katsina, Niger, Zamfara, Gombe, Kaduna, and Plateau, where the activities of insurgents and bandits are threatening food production.

Food-producing states

AFAN state chairmen in most of the key food-producing states told Sunday Vanguard that the crisis is snowballing into famine, saying most farmers have abandoned their farms for fear of being killed.

The total number of farmers killed since January 2020 isn’t available, but reports put it at thousands.

The recent spike in attacks, which is impacting negatively on food production, has reduced the nation’s food reserves to about 30,000 metric tonnes, according to AFAN.

Since the problem seems to be overwhelming security agencies, Sunday Vanguard learned that farmers in affected states have created local security arrangements to defend themselves.

Giving a detailed account of the situation in Sokoto, Gagadu said: “We are mobilising our farmers to provide traditional security arrangements that would confront the bandits head-on and those efforts are paying off.

“We mobilise our people, place them at strategic locations and they patrol the farms and other territories. In the process, if they notice any fishy movement before the bandits make any move they will raise the alarm by alerting their members in neighbouring villages. Such an arrangement puts the situation under control.

Neutralise fears

“That is a community rapid response approach. Security agencies are also encouraged by that because if security agents see that everybody is relaxed they will relax.

“If they see that people are alive to their responsibilities they too will be alert. That is the approach we are using largely now. We are fighting the challenges, and it pays.

“There would be a food crisis because of this situation. To encourage people to go back to their farms, government should neutralise the fears of farmers. And the loan scheme they are giving to farmers, the new project by Nigeria Incentive-Based Risk Sharing System for Agricultural Lending, NIRSAL, CBN and others may counterbalance this fear.

“In Sokoto, there are three or four local government areas affected by banditry. Out of 23 local government areas, seven are affected. There are cases where informants who were community members were arrested. Some areas are vulnerable and we are providing security to protect the people and prevent any attack.

“In Sokoto, things are under control largely but that does not mean there are no selected attacks. People have decided to protect themselves so that there will be food production. People can’t just sit and allow bandits to take over everywhere.

“In AFAN, we have structures in each local government. There is free flow of information.

“There are some local government areas where a young man of 25 will cultivate 1, 000 bags of onion and sell at N50, 000 for one bag. Can bandits give this kind of amount to recruit them? Young people should be recruited into farming.

Bandits’ recruitment

“Bandits do their recruitment among drug addicts. They supply drugs to bandits and the bandits entice them with huge amounts of money. They later join the bandits and some become informants in the communities.

“In the North, we have a lot of ungoverned lands. What I mean by ungoverned land is that when you go there, you can’t find any policeman or government presence.

“Before you get to the police you have to resort to self-help. To recover anything you need the help of bandits, and that was how those people became powerful.

“There are many villages where you can only find one policeman or three in strategic locations. And the bandits will come and do whatever they like without anybody noticing.

“The Fulani are also victims of bandits because they come and steal their things. Bandits come not to only steal but also to kill farmers. If the farmers go to report in a police station of three police officers, it is meaningless. What will they do? It is so bad that the bandits also give a condition that each family should give them a representative as part of the bandits if they don’t want to lose their cattle or farm produce.’’

KATSINA:

On his part, Chairman, AFAN, Katsina State chapter, Alhaji Ya’U Umar, said: “Our farmers have not gone to farms because of insecurity for about seven years now.

“Farmers flee their farms when they see persons who are not farmers there because they want to save their lives. This is a general issue in Nigeria that affects farmers.

“However, there are agro rangers drafted from the Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps, NSCDC, but that is not enough to protect our farmers from bandits. Their effort is not enough. They should redouble their effort.

‘Give farmers guns’

“We have started looking for other options to protect ourselves and we want to do this in collaboration with government by engaging and arming our vigilantes.

“Anybody who comes to the farm with arms to attack, if farmers have arms they will fight and kill the person who wants to kill them.

“That is the way out so that when next anybody tries to kill you on your farm, you have to kill the person. “In Nigeria, people should be allowed to own guns to protect themselves and farmers should protect themselves. We want government to do more in securing our farmers and farms.

“We are also praying to God to protect us. “Meanwhile, we have been having meetings with emirs and village heads on how to tackle banditry. Insecurity is worst in Katsina, Borno and Zamfara.”

NIGER:

Also speaking with Sunday Vanguard, Chairman, AFAN, Niger State chapter, Shehu Kontagora, lamented that for  two years banditry has been at its peak.

He said: “In Niger State, apart from climate change, COVID-19 pandemic, flooding is also there. Most farmers cultivated their crops with the hope of having a bumper harvest in October, but drought struck.

“Crops like cowpea, maize, beans and others were affected.

“Armyworms and other menace affected food production. Flooding affected many farmlands containing rice, yam, maize and other crops.

“We also have banditry, kidnapping, insurgency that affected farmers in Niger State adversely. Many farmers have stopped going to their farms.

“Some have fled their communities to safer places while those who summoned the courage to get back to their farms were attacked by armed bandits.

“We also have a problem going to the farms to harvest our crops. These bandits act as syndicates. About nine local government areas are affected.

Smallholder farmers

“Bandits even approach community leaders demanding that if they are not paid a certain amount of money members of their communities will not have access to their farms.

“Now, some farmers cannot get to their farms to cultivate, and most of them are smallholder farmers.

“For the large scale farmers, they can be kidnapped for ransom. This year is not a good year at all because, in Niger State, we have lost more than 30 farmers. We are coming together as communities to tackle banditry in collaboration with security agencies.

“Farmers this year have a lot of problems. No farmer received COVID-19 palliatives in the form of farm inputs.

“With all these factors affecting farmers, the prices of food will definitely be increasing in 2021. There are problems.

“Farmers have abandoned their farms and harvest because of attacks including attacks on markets where they sell their produce. The prices of food will definitely be rising even in 2021, which will lead to food shortages and not bumper harvests as some people are saying.’’



Source: Vanguard News

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