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Farmers in Ondo, Ekiti lament influx of killer herders, kidnappers

By Oluwaseun Akingboye, Akure and Ayodele Afolabi, Ado-Ekiti
14 July 2022   |   2:38 am
Sequel to the Sunday, June 5, 2022 killings at St Francis Xavier Catholic Church, Owo, the headquarters of Owo Local Government Area of Ondo State, farmers have urged the government

[FILES] Scene after the terrorist attack at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church, Owo, Ondo State where scores of worshippers were killed, maimed. Photo/FACEBOOK/rotimiaketi

Ekiti stakeholders accuse the Fayemi-led govt of inaction
• Farm operations suffer setbacks as insecurity escalates

Sequel to the Sunday, June 5, 2022 killings at St Francis Xavier Catholic Church, Owo, the headquarters of Owo Local Government Area of Ondo State, farmers have urged the government at all levels to intensify efforts to tame insecurity.

Similarly, farm operations in Ekiti State have been hampered as insecurity escalates as a result of marauding herders and their accompanying kidnappers.

The farmers in Ondo State expressed fear over their safety, lamenting that most of the farmlands across the state and the southwest zone had been invaded by killer herdsmen.

They groan due to the constant attacks on farmers by herdsmen and other marauders, posing threats to life, property, agriculture and food availability.

A farmer, Ishaku Jeremiah, who cultivates food crops, decried the current state of insecurity around farms, which, according to him, has altered the normal farm routines.

Jeremiah, an Ibira from Kogi State, said the last attack in the ancient Owo Kingdom confirmed the outcries of farmers for the past seven years that herdsmen had been posing threats to farming, life and property.

“Before this tragedy that happened in Owo church, we had been crying for help that Fulani herdsmen were killing us and destroying all our farm produce, but nobody took us seriously. They thought we were only pretending and crying foul.

“The Fulanis, in their large numbers, always destroy our farms with force, use our farm produce that we often get loans to plant to feed their cattle. And they sometimes rape our wives and daughters.

“You can imagine what the unknown gunmen, who are believed to be the killer herdsmen, did in the church, let alone the unreported crimes they commit unhindered in the forest. And we, farmers, are their targets.”

He disclosed that most of the farms in the area had been deserted as people who were living on the farms and villages did not feel safe as a result of perennial attacks by the marauders.

Jeremiah, whose family of six stayed with him at Uso Farm, raised the alarm that there was an influx of Fulani herdsmen and kidnappers into the area, saying some of them were constituting dangers to the farmers.

“At the moment, many of my brothers and colleagues have deserted the farms for safety. Most of the farm settlements are now empty and scanty due to the criminal activities of these invaders. Some of my brothers have even gone back to Kogi State,” he said.

A resident of Owo, Taiwo Ogunga, who said he used to follow his friends to their farms, said that agriculture is now a very risky venture in the area, warning that it might have a devastating economic impact on the economy if the government does not address it.

He revealed that there had been a major drift to towns and cities, revealing that it had led to the increase of people resorting to commercial motorcycles as sources of livelihood.

“Most farmers have abandoned their farms and moved to save their dear lives. However, this drift even started before the Owo church killing, but got worse afterwards, as farmers started living in the fear of being attacked on the farms.

“I can say categorically that farming is no longer profitable due to the inherent dangers. People, especially young people, are running away from agriculture. It is no longer attractive because of the fears associated with the business.”

He added: “I remember that I used to follow some of my friends to Oko-Iwaju, around Elegbeka Camp, but now it is a dangerous venture to take such a risk. Even some of the farm settlements are no longer as fun as they used to be because there is a constant exodus of farmers to the town.”

Apart from rising cases of unemployment, the farmers also bemoaned that the current situation of inability to produce food had degenerated into an increase in crime rate, as those who desert their farms come to cities and towns without any means of livelihood.

They appealed to the state government to intensify efforts in curbing the activities of the men of the underworld in the forest reserves, saying there is a need to set up special task forces for farmers’ protection.

The Special Assistant on Media to the Olowo of Owo, Sam Adewale, confirmed the new trend among farmers in the area, adding that most of them are living in fear of possible attacks by the herders.

Adewale revealed that most of the farmers had moved out of their farm settlements to towns, saying some of them still go to farms daily but do not sleep on the farms.

He, however, pointed out that the Olowo of Owo, Oba Gbadegesin Ogunoye, was taking proactive measures to ensure the menace is nipped in the bud by raising local hunters, who would complement the efforts of other conventional security agencies.

MEANWHILE, farmers in Ekiti State have lamented the inability to access their farmland as violent herders and kidnappers destroy their farms, kidnap farmers and rape and kill their women.

According to the farmers, the last dry season escalated the influx of cattle herders into the state to seek pastures, and with them came kidnappers and bandits, turning the farmlands into grazing land and the farmers’ crops to animal feed.

The areas worse hit by herders’ activities are Ikole, Oke-Ako, Aiyedun and Orin, among other towns mostly located in Ekiti North Senatorial district of the state.

The state enacted a law during Governor Ayodele Fayose’s administration, the law which among others, stipulated that: “Grazing activities must be from 7.00 am to 6.00 pm daily. The government shall allow certain portion of land to each local government for grazing.

“Anyone caught grazing on portions of land or any farmland not allotted by the government shall be apprehended and made to face the law. Any herdsman caught with firearms and any weapons whatsoever during grazing shall be charged with terrorism. Any cattle confiscated shall be taken to government cattle ranch at Erifun in Iworoko community.”

The legislation, which prescribed punishment for any farmer that touched cattle illegally, also provided that any farm produce destroyed through the activities of herdsmen shall be estimated by agricultural officers and the expenses of the estimate shall be borne by the culprits.

However, the law is breached because the erring herders are being treated with kid gloves by Governor Kayode Fayemi’s government.

The government agencies that should enforce the law have either failed or refused to act, thus making the farmers be helpless.

Speaking on the development, Chief Rotimi Bamisaiye, a farmer in Orin Ekiti, alleged that apart from the occupation of the Orin Farm Settlement, which he said comprised over 2,000 acres of land, the herdsmen had destroyed crops planted by farmers in the community.

Bamisaiye said: “From our records, over 70 farmers were affected. Crops worth N40 million and above have been ravaged. Their cattle ate up our crops like cocoyam, yam, cassava and others and made us incur debts.

“Several hectares of land have been destroyed. They operate at night with AK-47 rifles. What they want is to invade our land and chase us away. They even killed one of our able-bodied men this year. Our youths can’t go to farm freely and the government has not been doing something.

“Farmers have stopped reporting to the police because nothing came out of all the reports made so far. These Fulani herdsmen are in Ekiti causing a lot of havoc. This is the third time they are destroying my farm.”

The secretary of the All Farmers Association in Nigeria (AFAN), Ekiti State chapter, Kolawole Rotimi, said the destruction of farms by cattle remains largely a setback in the journey of the farmers to financial freedom and food production.

“We are afraid. People cannot go to farms again. You can imagine the effects. Again, most of our farmers are on Anchor Borrowers’ Programme (ABP) loans, and that means we are highly indebted. I am using this opportunity to call on the Federal Government, and the state Ministry of Agriculture so that any loan on affected farms should be written off. Who will repay such loans?” 

Rotimi called on the Ekiti State government to address security issues so that people could go to farms, adding: “We are sitting on a keg of gunpowder because when we have a multitude of young men and they are afraid to go to the farm, trouble is looming. The state should beef up security.
 
“They should stop open grazing. They should put their cattle on ranches. The state government should do something that is non-political, that is neutral to keep farmers safe so that more youths can come into agribusiness,” he said.

A female farmer, Mrs Iyadunni Ibitoye, said the farmers had expected bountiful harvest and incomes, but “after the cultivation in which we put in a lot of effort, despite the effect of the rains, the farm was a huge success. It was at the stage of harvest that cattle invaded the farm and destroyed it. The herdsmen fed their cows with our crops, the sweat of our labour. This is wicked and unacceptable.

“We appeal to the government to help us. All the money and efforts we have put into farming have been wasted. We need assistance. We are appealing to the government to compensate us so that we can get money for another planting season.”