By Marie-Therese Nanlong
Jos – Over the years, protracted conflicts have occurred between farmers and herders in Plateau State and the crux of the matter had always been fighting over needed resources to support their respective trades. These squabbles though minimal in the past have taken diverse dimensions and criminality and vindictiveness take centre stage in recent times.
In the last half of a decade, it became so pronounced that animals are deliberately being allowed to venture into farmlands to destroy grown crops, even as cows are being rustled or even poisoned as herders grazed on unwanted areas and these acts have continued to drive the cycle of violence and animosity between the groups.
For instance, in many farming communities in Jos North, Jos South, Riyom, Barkin Ladi, Bassa, Bokkos and Mangu local government areas of the State, these incidents of crop destructions and maiming of cows have almost become an annual ritual; many steps have been taken by the State government agencies like Plateau Peace Building Agency, security agencies like the Operation Safe Haven and civil society organizations like the Search for Common Ground which initiated the Community Security Architecture Dialogue, CSAD for farmers and herders to always dialogue and address issues.
To reverse the situation, the State government led by Governor Simon Lalong had demonstrated commitment to addressing the issue when he insisted on the ranching option of the National Livestock Transformation Plan, NLTP despite stiff opposition. Also, the dialogue and compensation steps that seemed to yield positive results and bring reprieve are gradually being undermined as fresh incidents of crop destruction are resurfacing in the communities.
In the first week of June, about 68 farmers in the Sot community of Gyel District in Jos South Local Government Area of the State suffered losses as cows were led by some herdsmen to graze on their farmlands at Gyero village. The affected farmers said they invested all their resources into farming during the COVID-19 lockdown with high hopes of making bumper harvests, but their maize farms have been destroyed by cattle.
The incident occurred because of a fight between some herders and indigenous Berom farmers. Despite the intervention by some well-meaning community leaders, some herders led some cows into maize farms and destroyed the crop. It was gathered that some Fulani leaders had identified the suspected perpetrators and handed them over to security agents.
A community leader in Gyel, Yakubu Gam, described the fate of farmers in the community as pathetic saying this was not the first time cows would graze freely and destroy farmlands but noted that the people had been resolving the issue with the herdsmen as according to him, “One of us and his children went hunting and they were attacked by Fulani men. If you know Gyel, it is one of the peaceful communities on the Plateau, when you talk about issues between herders and farmers.
“When we learned about that incident, we communicated to the Fulani people to know the whereabouts of those youths. We never believed that Fulani would attack our youths from Gyel. That night, we don’t know how it happened. Cows were running and destroying farmlands and when we discovered the damage between Saturday and Sunday, the Fulani people on their own arrested their youths who deliberately destroyed people’s farmland. We went to the bush with the security and discovered that farms belonging to 68 persons were destroyed. Some were severe and some were minor and some of our people said they have forgiven them due to our peaceful nature.
“We appreciate the effort of the Fulani people for arresting their youths and I am calling on both the Fulani and our people to work more to build on the peace in Gyel./Three years ago, that same farmland that was destroyed that Saturday was destroyed and the cost of damages was in millions and they didn’t pay any compensation to the farmers. And now, they are saying the Fulani will have to pay. Leaders of both groups should come together and foster peace and the Fulani should not graze on people’s farms again.”
A Fulani youth leader, Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, MACBAN, Jos South Chapter, Ahmed Mua’azu, described the incident as unfortunate. But he said it was the action of some Berom boys who killed 11 cows that led to the whole problem stating, “What happened was that on that Friday night, some Berom youths shot three of our cows at Sabon Kanada and eight others in Gyoro. And as our children were running, the cows destroyed their crops. After some of our boys came deliberately to destroy the crops and we arrested them and took them to the police station.”
Again, on the second week of July 2020, suspected herdsmen grazed into a 70 hectares palliative farmland cultivated to help Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Rotsu village of Miango District in Bassa Local Government Area of the State as residents say over 300 cows invaded the farmland and destroyed maize, guinea corn and soya beans cultivated by Miango Youths Development Association, to assist the villagers who were earlier displaced from their homes by people they say were herdsmen.
Secretary-General of the Association, Gani Emmanuel who visited the affected farmland described the incident as an attempt to throw the entire Bassa Local Government Area into acute hunger in 2021, noting that residents of Rotsu who were displaced in 2017 are currently living with relations and the youths mobilised themselves to cultivate the farm to assist the people.
His words, “What prompted us to cultivate the 70 hectares of land is to support the displaced persons, you can see destroyed buildings here, there are people that were residing here but left to other communities due to attacks. We took the initiative, tagged palliative farmland to support the displaced persons but it is unfortunate that four days after we weeded the farmland and applied over 30 bags of fertilizer, Fulani bandits came in the afternoon of Thursday 16th July and grazed over the whole land. We have invested over N500,000 in cultivating the land and expecting crops of over N100 million but all were destroyed in one day.”
A Miango youth, Lawrence Zongo lamented the situation saying since the community was displaced and scores of people killed, no help has come to them, “we had to task ourselves to cultivate the farmland, it is community efforts not bonanza from the government. They waited for us to go this far before wasting our efforts, as we speak, no government representative from local to State to federal has even come to see things for themselves. There will be no compensation but if one Fulani cow is hurt, compensation would be paid. All we want if for the herders to be kept away from our homes and our farms. All we need is peace.”
However, State Focal Person for the NLTP, Professor John Wade said the government’s commitment has not waned as the proposed ranching may take off in the two designated areas before the end of the year and called on citizens to be patient.
He said, “The preparation for the ranching is still ongoing, even last we week, we were at the reserves in preparatory to takeoff. This week too, we will be having a meeting with some of our partners, COVID-19 only slowed down the movement and certain activities but the programme is still in place. What is happening in those areas have been long-standing issues which the government has been working hard to resolve.
“I am aware that even last week, the Peace Building Agency was in some of these communities in Bassa, Riyom and some other affected communities within the Northern zone, had a roundtable conference with a view to resolving issues, we hope that they will resolve things among themselves.
“In respect to the takeoff of the ranching, the government is doing that at the gazetted grazing areas in Wase and Kanam were up till the time I am talking to you, there has not been any conflict of resources utilization or land use or other things. The government is making all efforts for the ranching to takeoff so that it can serve as a pilot programme for others to understand though nothing has started in the northern zone yet.
“Let people be patient, why some people don’t believe is because the thing has not taken off fully but with the pilot programme, the people are well sensitized and they are waiting for the takeoff, anytime from now, we will take off, we hope that things will pick up, maybe before the end of the year, something meaningful will happen.”
The Director-General of the Peace Building Agency, Joseph Lengmang reacting to farm destruction in Bassa stated, “The Plateau Peace Building Agency (PPBA) received with shock and dismay the news of the destruction of a community farm in Rotsu village of Miango District, Bassa LGA of Plateau State on Thurs, July 16, 2020. The act which was allegedly perpetrated by some Fulanis is condemnable and a calculated attempt to plunge the area into chaos. We, therefore, join all people of good conscience to speak against this dastard act by those who do not mean well for the peace and stability of our state.
“In line with our mandate of promoting the culture of peace and harmonious coexistence in the state, PPBA strongly condemns the unprovoked and unwarranted destruction of this well-intended community effort that would have significantly complemented our quest for self-sufficiency in food production.
“There is no gainsaying that this disturbing turn of event coming at a time that efforts to find amicable resolutions to the contentious issues of conflict in the chiefdom through sustained negotiation, systematic dialogue, and mediation have been heightened, no doubt poses a significant threat to the efforts and investments put together by both government and other critical stakeholders in the peace process in Irigwe Chiefdom in particular and, the state in general.
“While sympathizing with the Irigwe nation over this unfortunate incident, we call on them to remain calm and resolute in their determination to exploring pathways to Peace and to cooperate with all relevant state and non-state actors in putting an end to these unprovoked attacks and other forms of violence in the area. No doubt this is yet another sad moment in our collective search for peace but, we must not despair even in the face of such setbacks.
“We urge all lovers of peace to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters who have been affected by this unfortunate development. In the face of this seeming act of wickedness, we must remain resolute and committed to the path of peace, knowing that in the end, good must certainly prevail over evil. We call on the security operatives vested with the responsibility of checking crime and criminality in the state not to rest on their oars in fishing out the perpetrators of this heinous act with the view to ensuring that they face the full weight of the law; as doing so would serve as a deterrent to those who may be contemplating turning back the hands of time in our quest for the return of sustainable peace.”