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Anti-grazing law: Farmers decry destruction of farmlands, lack of security in boundary communities

Tension has risen within the  Benue Nasarawa border communities over destruction of hundreds of farmlands by migrating Fulani herders who cross into Nasarawa State as a result of implementation of the anti open grazing law in Benue state.

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The affected farmers told Daily Trust recently that the herders  destroyed crops in many farmlands yet to be harvested worth millions  of naira in Tsegbenyi, Doga, Jangargari, Abujan Ganye Madidid in Tunga area, and other boundary settlements along edge of river Benue in Awe LGA of Nasarawa state.

Our correspondent who visited the boundary communities in Awe LGA, observed total absence of security in the entire boundary communities, with the exception of  a few vigilantes. During the visit Tuesday this reporter alongside some journalists witnessed some of the migrating  herders and their cattle inside some rice farms  in Doga village, a settlement along boundary with Benue state in Awe LGA of Nasarawa State.

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Residents of the boundary communities told Daily Trust that the herders are using force in dispersing the farmers with sporadic gunshots before and after entering farmlands, leaving the farmers helpless and  currently living in threat, and fear of the unknown.

One of the affected farmers, Nyishir Joseph, said that the migrating  herders stormed his rice farm with hundreds of cows Sunday evening in Tsegbenyi, Awe LGA, “shooting sporadically and cows eating  up the entire farmland. I am just planning to harvest my rice farm ,and I am expecting about 80 to 100 bags of rice. They have destroyed everything in the farm as you can see,” Joseph said.

“Thank God none of us got injured from their gunshots. We went  back because if we try to face them, they may likely kill   all of us with the kind of weapons they were carrying, and set fire to  our houses  and also destroy  our properties. We are currently helpless because of the absence of security in the border. We are appealing to the government to come to our aid by providing  security operatives along the boundaries.”

Another victim, Nobody Ubur, seen  very sober in his destroyed farm in Tsegbenyi told Daily Trust that the herders invaded his rice farm in  broad daylight in Tsegbenyi, firing gunshots from different directions, “We ran for our safety to a distant hill where we were watching helplessly how their cattle destroyed our crops and means of livelihood. I am expecting 120 bags of local rice in three of my farms that were destroyed. I have two wives and 15 children. This farm is the only means of survival for me and my family.”

After they finished the destruction of my farms. They moved their cattle to the riverside to drink, and they proceeded by crossing the river and returning  to Benue state. We are currently living in fear and threat for our lives, because we cannot defend ourselves with machete, daggers bow and arrow, while the herders are carrying sophisticated weapons. We don’t know whether they will still comeback.”

“I am appealing both to  the state and federal governments to come to our aid, especially  our crops that were destroyed by these herders, and compensate us so that we do not  descend  into hunger and starvation. We  are also appealing to the government to provide security in the boundary communities, to forestall future occurrence and maintenance of peace.”

One other victim, who is also the village head of Tsegbenyi, Samuel Obur, said that residents of boundary communities are living in fear since arrival of  the migrating  Fulani herders in the area.

Obur Obur, said, “Our greatest challenge now in the boundary settlement is our safety. The herders entered  my rice farm yesterday when  I was  about to harvest, and destroyed the entire crops, which is more  than 80 bags. You have no right to challenge them because they carrying heavy guns. If you move near them, they shoot you.” 

“The level of impunity going in this village is beyond imagination, but what is keeping us in suspense is their action between Sunday evening and Monday morning, as hundreds of them move their cattle across the river Benue through Anyishi, Logo LGA with thousands of their cattle back to Benue state. We are really afraid of their return. We don’t have security here. The only one seen  is some pockets of vigilante who cannot address the situation.”

Felix Ugbir, whose farms were destroyed by the herders in Tsegbenyi, Awe LGA, told our correspondent that the herders swarmed  his farm with hundreds of cows and sheep, “ I am  a farmer and farming is the only means of livelihood, I don’t have any skills or  techniques to do any business ,and now the herders have  overrun all my farm produce.”

Another victim affected whose farm was also destroyed in Abujan Ganye Madidi Ibrahim Awilo in a telephone interview said that the migrating  Fulani herders entered  his rice farm at Ganye Madidi, settlement, in Tunga, Awe LGA, saying, “When one sibling and a colleague talked to the herders they brought  out weapons and threatened  to kill  them. They took to their heels for safety. They destroyed the entire crops in the farm.”

One of  the migrating  Fulani herders Jibrin Musa, who journeyed from Agoma in Benue, found grazing his cattle in Fantaki community in Awe, told Daily Trust that most of  the destruction  of the farms were done out of fear and suspense coupled with lack of enough grasses.

“Our major challenge  is the food and water for our cattle. There is not  enough grass and water to graze our cattle in most of the boundary communities. Many of the migrating  herders are not used to these  kind of conditions. I don’t think  the destruction of farmlands is deliberate. We are trying our best not  to destroy the crops of  farmers. Many herders swarm  into farms on account  of the present situation. There is no grass for the cattle not  to talk of food for our children, a good number are confused conditions.” Musa said.

The Commander of the Vigilante Group of Nigeria (VGN) Awe branch, Salihu Idris Ashafa, attributed the many incidents of destruction of farmlands to lack of  security personnel in the villages and other boundary settlements along the river Benue,  “Government needs to support the vigilantes with logistics support, like mobility to effectively patrols the area and stipend to motives the members.”

Ashafa said, “You have gone and seen  the terrain yourself, the migrating  herders find a free environment to plunge  into  the farmlands of helpless farmers. We have few spirited individuals who voluntarily sacrifice  their lives and motorcycles to patrol or intervene in security challenges in the area. There is no support from any quarter  to the vigilantes. If there are enough vigilantes and logistics support, the destruction could not have taken place, or damages could not be much.”

Another farmer who migrated from Akoro in Benue state Sale Umaru, now in Fantaki area of Awe LGA, said that most of the destruction of farmlands were caused  by the attitude of the farmers who blocked major cattle routes in the area.

Umaru said, “When we cross the river Benue into Nasarawa State there was an existing cattle route for over 100 years that the farmers blocked and cultivated their crops along  those cattle routes. The number of cattle that cross  cannot wait for anyone to clear their route. In some areas even access road that human beings  use is also blocked, coupled with the absence of enough grasses in the area. Go round into the whole of these areas you will observe farmlands crossing the cattle route, so many cases of destruction of farmlands are  as  a result of the blockage of cattle routes.”

When contacted over the absence of security men in the boundary communities, Nasarawa State Police Public Relation Officer, Idrisu Kennedy, said that the command has  a mobile police team which patrols the surrounding villages, but argued that it doesn’t have stationed police formations within the settlements.

Kennedy added that following the influx of the migrating  Fulani herders, the state commissioner deployed more to the areas, and they are working with the joint security task force, which include the traditional rulers, vigilantes and other security agents to ensure the maintenance of law and order in the affected areas.

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