*Mobilise for self-defence against attacks
*‘Bandits demand donation of male child to avoid attacks’
By Gabriel Ewepu
“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.
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.
“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.
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“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 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.’’
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.”
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.
“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.’’
Acting Chairman, AFAN, Borno State chapter, Allamen Umara, said: “Farming activities are currently going on in northern Borno, Kondunga, Shani Bayo, Jere, Maiduguri, and Bama areas.
“Like where the rice farmers were killed people go to their farms, and we are also planning to pay condolence visits to our slain members’ families. The question is: what would the farmers eat if they stay at home?
“But those whose farms are in far distances, I don’t think they will go to their farms for now, but those whose farms are within have been going to their farms.
“What we want government to do is to double the security presence to monitor the farms. This is our demand. We want the media to tell government to help us.
“We are yet to receive assistance from government, and we need to be included in their projects so that we can have the financial strength to be more productive.”
Lamenting the situation in Yobe, state Chairman of AFAN, Alhaji Usman Ngari, said when farmers go to their farms, they do not settle down to cultivate their crops because of attacks.
He said: “These criminals take our farm produce. There is no presence of agro rangers from Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps. Farmers are left to their fate.
“We as AFAN in Yobe have organised vigilantes for the security of our farmers and farmlands. “Government also assists us in paying vigilantes. They have been working for three months.
In Yobe State food prices are not too high and low, but people mostly eat twice instead of three square meals as it used to be.
“We also want the Central Bank of Nigeria to attend to the data we submitted under the Anchor Borrowers Scheme so that our farmers can be more productive. We also want government to provide fertilizer, tractors, herbicides and insecticides.”
In Plateau, the state Chairman of AFAN, John Chindap Wuyep, said: “Generally, in Plateau State, the security challenges are minimal, except some communal clashes in Bassa and others.
“But food prices are on the high side because of the rainfall in the southern part of the state.
“As a result of climate change, there might be a shortage of beans.
“The problem we have in Plateau is kidnapping. Although we have agro rangers drafted to some local governments like Ryom that has a boundary with Nasarawa and Kaduna, and Kanam that shares a boundary with Taraba and Bauchi states.”
Meanwhile, experts in agribusiness have suggested immediate and long term solutions to the looming food insecurity.