There seems to be a sharp disagreement between the Ekiti State Government and the farmers over the activities of the herdsmen that have destroyed their crops in the state, writes YAQOUB POPOOLA
It was the media that broke the story of the destruction of multi-million naira maize farms belonging to members of the Maize Grower Processing Marketer Association of Nigeria (MAGPAMAN) in Aduloju farmstead, located along Ado-Ijan Road in the state capital by herdsmen. The havoc was linked to the fleeing herders from Ondo State forest into Ekiti. But the government has since debunked the two reports as being a figment of imaginations of those making the claims.
Suspected herders, according to the secretary of the Maize Growers Processing Marketer Association of Nigeria (MAGPAMAN), Tope Emmanuel last week claimed that farmland covering about 235 hectares of land, situated at Aduloju village, along Ado-Ijan road was plundered.
Narrating their ordeals in the hands of the rampaging herders, Emmanuel explained that the pastorals stormed the farm at night with dangerous weapons to feed their cows and, “all efforts to stop them were rebuffed.” He disclosed that members obtained about N6.6 million loan from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) under the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme in September to plant the maize, adding that the 160 members had been left with nothing to cultivate from the expected proceed worth N10 million.
“Last year, we approached the CBN as a group to obtain loan worth N6.6 million for the maize farm and we planted the maize covering 235 hectares of land the farm expecting about N10 million as gain. But unfortunately, when we were preparing for cultivation, the herdsmen came and destroyed everything on the farm with nothing for us again. Those herders always go there during the night with dangerous weapons in the last few days and nobody can challenge them because of the arms they are holding. We can’t go to the farm now.”
Emmanuel pleaded with the state government and other stakeholders to come to their rescue from the deadly herdsmen and assist them in recouping their investment. “Don’t forget that government always say we should go back to the farm and we approached the bank for a loan hoping to pay back after harvesting but nothing to cultivate now as these herders have destroyed everything in the farm.
“We are begging the state government to save us as members are really in a difficult situation now in view of the loan and you can predict what might follow if nothing is done,” he said. He said the police and the State Security Network Agency code-named Amotekun had been briefed on the incident but expressed regret that nothing was forthcoming from the security agents.
However, the Ekiti State Amotekun Corps Commander, Brig-Gen Joe Komolafe (rtd) who confirmed the incident said efforts are ongoing to address the matter. Komolafe said, “We are handling the situation.”
Ironically, Governor Kayode Fayemi has however debunked the report, alleging the invasion of herdsmen into Ekiti through the Ondo forest. The governor also said that efforts were on to address the ‘skirmishes’ at a farmstead in Ekiti.
Speaking through the Commissioner for Information and Values Orientation, Hon Akin Omole, the governor described the news report as a figment of the imagination of the author and pure speculation most likely originating from the recent security threat in the neighbouring Ondo State. Omole assured residents in Ekiti State of security to their lives and properties, adding that relevant security agencies including the State Amotekun Corps are monitoring the State boundaries round the clock.
According to him, the State Government and security operatives are investigating and in control of the situation surrounding the only skirmish that occurred at Ago Aduloju at the outskirts of the State capital. “The State Government sympathises with all those who were affected by this and would like the community to be assured that no efforts will be spared to ensure that Ekiti citizens are able to conduct their affairs in peace, unhindered by criminals of any kind”, Omole stated.
Stressing the commitment of the Fayemi-led administration to the general wellbeing of people in the State, Omole advised the people to disregard all unsubstantiated news reports and go about their lawful endeavours without fear of intimidation or threats to their lives and property. The news report had claimed that herdsmen fleeing Ondo State were relocating to Ekiti forests following the 7-day ultimatum issued by Governor Rotimi Akeredolu.
Police authorities in Ekiti have since dismissed the report. The Police, in a statement made available to journalists by the Police Public Relations, Sunday Abutu entitled: “Herders Relocating To Ekiti: A Fiction.” called on the members of the public to disregard it. The Ekiti State Commissioner of Police, Tunde Mobayo in the statement assured the people of Ekiti State of adequate security, calling on everyone to be calm, vigilant, and report any strange and suspicious persons found in their environs to the nearest Police Station or call 0806 233 5577 for prompt action.
The Commissioner, while also imploring members of the public to always verify the source and authenticity of every information they receive via social media, warned newsmen against fake and unverified publications that could cause apprehension in the society, as such shall no longer be tolerated. “The Command, therefore, calls on all and sundry to disregard such fake and fictitious story, adding that the story was just a mere imagination of the source.” the statement reads in part.
Popular cleric and Life Coach, Reverend Tunde Afe cautioned against politicisation of issues concerning Ekiti farmers and the rampaging herdsmen, saying that farmers were suffering in silence. The founder of the House of Faith Christian Church Ado-Ekiti said he was a victim of the menace of herdsmen as herders and their animals plundered his cassava farm recently. The cleric’s confirmation came on the heels of the claims by the Ekiti State Government and the Police that herders as claimed destroyed no farmland.
The Commissioner for Agriculture, Dr. Olabode Olatoyi was quoted to have said on Wednesday that there was no farm destroyed by herdsmen in the state. Afe however cautioned leaders who were allegedly playing politics with the security situation in the state to stop forthwith as the lives and property of residents should be the priority of government at all levels.
According to him, “It is wrong for some people to say “No single farm has been destroyed in Ekiti by Fulani herdsmen.” Please don’t play politics with this issue. These herdsmen destroy farms in Ekiti every day. For example, cows ate up a section of my cassava farm at Itapaji Ekiti last week. Farmers have stopped reporting to police because nothing comes out of all the reports made so far. These Fulani herdsmen are in Ekiti doing a lot of havoc. This is the third time they are destroying my farm. Stop playing politics with this matter.”
It will be recalled that former governor, Ayo Fayose, during his second term tenure signed the “Anti Grazing Bill 2016” into law. While signing the bill into law, Fayose said the new law would check cases of incessant attacks or killings of local residents and destruction of farmlands by herdsmen and their cattle.
“With the signing into law of this bill today, anyone caught grazing with arms or any weapon in Ekiti would now be charged with terrorism and be made to face the law according to certain sections of it. The same goes for those who graze in prohibited areas or go against the time frame of 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. allowed for open grazing,” he said.
In March 2019, the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) arrested about 100 cows said to stray into farmlands. The arrest was carried out in a joint operation of the Agro Rangers Unit of the command, Nigeria Army, Police, Ekiti State Anti-Grazing Agency, and men of Vigilante Group of Nigeria (GVN). “The herders who were discovered uprooting tubers to feed their animals and also destroy bans and other valuables were arrested while they were destroying some farms along Ado/Ijan road,” NSCDC said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the herders have also come out boldly to accuse the natives of misrepresentations and outright falsehood against them. Alhaji Adamu Abashe the Sarkin Fulani in Ekiti State who claimed to have spent over 30 years in Ekiti told Daily Independent even when there was a misunderstanding, maybe my cattle mistakenly strayed into farmlands and destroy farm produce, we know how we settle the matter amicably until recently when things turned sour.
“Whenever there was any complaint against me, what I do basically is to inspect the area and see things for myself. On many occasions, I compensate the affected farmers by paying for the damages. I must say that these happened occasionally. You know in a business of this nature, you cannot rule out such, more so that animals are involved. So, this is how I was able to live for 30 years in that community called Orin-Ekiti. There were many occasions when my cows were killed for no reason, nobody paid me compensation. I normally take it in good faith just to ensure that there is peace in the community,” Sarkin Fulani emphasised.