INVESTIGATIONS… ‘THEY WANT OUR LANDS’: Horror, brutal killings as grazing disputes overwhelm Benue (concluded)
They Opened Our Doors With Force, Bringing In Cows To Eat Our Seedlings
Before these attacks drove everyone out, Uatsor used to be a peaceful village and a farming hub. Meraba, a displaced farmer and civil servant who took Ripples Nigeria round select portions of affected farmlands in the now deserted Uatsor village explained that the farmers have suffered two major attacks which led to the burning of houses, loss of lives and destruction of farmlands. “About this time last year when they attacked us, we reached out to the government, and they provided us with security. Early this year, however, these people started coming again with their cattle, grazing on our farmlands. And this time, we saw them with guns and other sophisticated weapons.”
The villagers, immediately, called on the government again, but unfortunately, the government couldn’t give them adequate security this time. “One day, they just decided to kill, and that was how they started shooting and butchering our people,”Meraba said. He added that the ashes of the burnt Roman Catholic Mission, the only church in Uatsor are still hot.
The burnt Roman Catholic Mission in Uatsor
They had to flee, and after a long while, they returned, not to live there, but to bury their dead. “We buried some of our people, three weeks ago; eleven were buried within my area and then twelve in the other area.”
In the cultivation circle, farmers have in their reserves, seedlings that will be used during the next planting season. If farmers had lost everything on their farms to grazing, they could easily use these seedlings to restart. The fate of the farmers here, however, is a sad one. “When they came attacking, and we ran away, they opened our doors with force and brought in their cows to eat our seedlings,”Meraba said. “Especially, the yam seedlings,” he added.
They brought in their cows to eat our yam seedlings
Gbaji’s house that was destroyed
Gbaji, a popular and rich farmer in Uatsor, was one of the casualties of last year’s attacks. When everybody was running for their lives, Gbaji stayed to resist the attack on his house and yam barns. His house was looted, and burnt.
“He was butchered,” Meraba said.
Seeking help from the government, Meraba said adequate security is needed so that they can return to farming. “We need more security so that our people can come back home and farm. As we are not farming now, there is no way we can properly feed our family.”
“The killer-herdsmen are around here, see what they just did to my house!”
For the fear of being attacked over the night, farmers who come from the camps to check on their houses and farms that are yet to be destroyed in Uatsor cannot pass the night in the village. They return to their camps as soon as they are done.
Ahume, one of such farmers— who was returning from his farm— spotted Ripples Nigeria’s team, and drew the attention of the team to his house— to the fresh cuts on his windows. “I check on this house whenever I come to my farm here,” a devastated Ahume said.
With an undertone that quickly suggested to Ripples Nigeria’s team to leave the area with immediate effect, Ahume said, “these killer-herdsmen are around here, see what they did to my house, just a few minutes ago!”
See what they just did to my house
A look at the loss
A couple of members of the Movement Against Fulani Occupation, MAFO , believe that there is a plot by some prominent Fulanis to kill their people and turn their communities into ranches. Nyor, a member of the group— whose mission is to assert the right to live and productive activities of Benue communities in the face of outright invasion, killing and occupation of lands— told Ripples Nigeria that these attacks are all coordinated.
“For them, it is a carefully thought-out plan,” he said. “And, it is across the West African sub-region.” He further explained that about eighty percent of the cows are owned by prominent persons who use the herders— who trek thousands of kilometers— for grazing purposes. “It is true, the natural Fulani man owns cows, but majority of these cows are owned by people who have the capacity to ranch them. And these are the billionaires. They have their own arrangement, just like an Igbo man will open a shop and apprentice a boy from his village, the Fulanis share cows amongst themselves on similar arrangements.”
These cattle owners who are supposed to build ranches, prefer grazing fields because they see the free expanse of land, Nyor explained. Despite having the money, Nyor said these cattle owners don’t want to bear the costs of medications and feeding the cows if kept in a ranch. “It is so difficult for them to agree to ranching, and they come to graze on the most fertile part of the land that is meant for farming, and some of them even proposed that lands across the country should be allotted them,” he said. “Have the Ijaws or the Jukuns requested that every river in Nigeria be conceded to them so they can fish?
“This is how the problem started. They had grazing routes that were mapped out in the laws of the 50s, but that was when Nigeria’s population was around 50 million. Then, our lands spanned many kilometers, but today, it’s not so, because of the increasing population.”
Ismail Iro, in his paper noted that “formal grazing reserves in Nigeria started accidentally in the 1950s when Hamisu Kano, working with pastoralists on livestock vaccination, foresaw the shortages of grazing land in Northern Nigeria. Supported by the government, he initiated the grazing reserve scheme from the abandoned government resettlement schemes (Fulani Settlement Scheme).
The resettlement schemes collapsed because the government had neither the financial nor the managerial ability to continue with the financially burdensome scheme, and the best alternative use of the land, the government thought, was to convert it into grazing reserves that would require less financially commitment. Grazing reserve hatched in 1954 after a study of the Fulani production system contained in the “Fulani Amenities Proposal”. The proposal suggested the creation of grazing reserves, the improvement of Fulani welfare, and the transformation of the herd management system. By 1964, the government had gazette about 6.4 million hectares of the forest reserve, ninety-eight percent in the savanna. Sokoto Province had twenty-one percent of the land, followed by Kabba, Bauchi, Zaria, Ilorin, and Katsina, with 11-15 percent each The Wase, Zamfara, and Udubo reserves followed in succession.”
Nyor alleged that these attacks are been sponsored by billionaire cattle owners who now keep a militant wing of the herdsmen. “They want to depopulate, and beyond bringing their cows to graze, they want to occupy,” he said. “This is neither a war nor crisis, it is simply occupation. And for occupation to happen, a tribe must be wiped out.”
A result of research on Fulani herdsmen by the Chinua Achebe Center for Leadership and Development revealed that most of the Fulani killer herdsmen do not own cow, but are employed by cattle owners as “security men” whose job is strictly to protect the cattle. “They do not however follow the cattle around, but move in separate vehicles along a defined route within the states where cattle are being reared,” the report read.
When there is a disagreement between host communities or between herdsmen and farmers, the report further stated, that, “the Fulani herdsmen, accompanying the cattle, will locate the nearest Fulani settlement and if there is none, they will locate the nearest Garki or Ama-Hausa. When they arrive, they will narrate their story.
“The Fulani (Nigerian middlemen) cattle managers will notify their top Fulani herdsmen, which in this case, includes governors (like El-Rufai) and other top Fulani Bourgeois, who own the cattle. A decision will be made about whether there should be an attack or not on the said village or host community. If an attack is sanctioned, then modalities will be mapped out and a date will be chosen for the attack.”
It added that, most times, these attacks happen because “respectable men” sanction them.
The Fulani Counter-Narrative
Garus Gololo, the national coordinator of Miyette Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) admitted that the attacks in Buruku were carried out by Fulani herdsmen. He, however, alleged that attacks on other communities were perpetrated by Terwase Akwaza, a suspected criminal popularly known as Ghana, who has been declared wanted by the government.
“I am sure they killed some of the farmers in Buruku,” he said, adding that earlier, the herdsmen’s cattle had been attacked. “The killings were done by the herdsmen, and we went there and even met with the herdsmen. We asked them why they killed farmers and they said that it were the farmers who first attacked them and their cows.
“It is only the federal government that can sort this out because most of the grazing routes have been blocked out and cultivated by the farmers,” Gololo explained. “And so, the Fulani herdsman has nowhere to go with his cattle. If they follow a route today, by tomorrow before they come back, a farmer would have blocked that route.
“There used to be grazing routes from Maiduguri down to Port-Harcourt, from Mali down to Rivers State.”
He noted that a meeting was recently held with the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and they deliberated on how they can carve out the grazing routes for the herders. He also explained that there has been series of dialogue-meetings to finding solutions to the dispute. Samuel Ortom, Benue State governor, had inaugurated committees across the local government areas of the state to sort issues between farmers and the herders.
“Those who come to attack with guns are Ghana boys,” he said. “Even one Fulani boy was attacked on his way to Katsina-Ala, and his hand was chopped off. “The criminal recruited youths and they have been killing the Fulanis and even the farmers.
“The Buruku attacks, we confirmed that the herdsmen were responsible, and when we went there the governor told them to leave the area and they left. But the attacks on Ukum, Jatoka, Katsina-Ala, Ghana is to be held responsible for that”, he said.
The Chile island of River Katsina-Ala where the herdsmen were before Governor Ortom begged them to leave
Shoot Arms-Bearing Herdsmen On Sight –Gololo
In this interview with Ripples Nigeria, Gololo said his association has given directive to the security operatives to shoot any herdsmen seen with guns.
Shoot arms-bearing herdsmen on sight
Gololo who believes in dialogue and recently received an award for peace-keeping, does not understand the reasons for the attacks. “The Fulani lives by his cow, and the farmer lives on his farm,” he said. “So, all those ones, we’ve directed the DPO to arrest them. And we have even given them the directive that if you see a Fulani herdsman with a gun, don’t arrest him, shoot him because he is a criminal. Clear him off so that people will have rest of mind.
“It is not right to be in position of firearms. Our rule is that you shouldn’t go grazing with arms. You go with your stick and machete. The stick is used to control the cattle, and that machete is used to slaughter a cow that is about to die.”
We May Carry Out Resistance Attacks
An angry youth leader from one of the Tiv communities that have been affected told Ripples Nigeria that they may be forced to carry out resistance attacks should the killings of their people go on in this manner. “When you destroy a farm and the seedlings reserved, it means the farmer would be unable to farm the next season and this means that for one or two years, you have completely taken off the farmer’s livelihood. And yes, the premium the Fulani herdsman place on his cows is the premium a Tiv farmer places on his crops. If you value your cows, we also value our crops.
“Years ago when we were attacked in a manner like this, we went to attack their settlements, too and we killed their warlord. And do you know that for the next six months, there was no attack on our lands? When they saw that there was an organized resistance, they backed off. Before then, you can imagine, the private residence of our Tor Tiv was invaded and was occupied by the Fulani herdsmen.
“We may start going to the Fulani settlements to attack them, if these killings continue. Right now, we are barking, the Fulani herdsmen shouldn’t get us to biting.”
Weeping openly after an attack on Tarfi village, Binnev Ward in Buruku local government of Benue State, Governor Samuel Ortom also noted that they soon might resort to self-help if security agencies could not protect them.
Ticking Time Bomb
Nigeria is yet to fully recover from the catastrophic terror of the Boko Haram Islamic sect that has killed thousands and rendered millions homeless, especially, in the northeastern part of the country. The dreaded terrorists whose series of attacks date back to 2009 have been fighting to achieve their stated agenda of establishing caliphates across select northern states. Known to be vehemently against western education, Boko Haram terrorists have destroyed schools, churches, mosques, and government buildings.
The country may have to get itself prepared to fight another killer group rearing its destructive head through the agrarian settlements of Benue, the North-Central Nigerian state nicknamed, ‘the food basket of the nation’, even as the marauders have reached as far as Enugu State in the South East part of the country. The herdsmen menace may just be a time bomb which will explode, soon as affected communities decide to no longer turn the other cheek, but fight back in the name of self defence.
A timeline of attacks on these communities from 2013— when it reportedly started— till date shows that more than fifty communities have been attacked, and many of these communities totally razed down.
Governor of the state, Samuel Otom when he played host to the leadership of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) led by its President, Rev. Dr. Samson Ayokunle, recently at Government House, Markudi, cried out that 12 out of 23 local council areas in the state had remained under the siege of herdsmen for two years now.
Among the areas he listed include, Gwer-west, Kwande, Tarka , Buruku, Guma, Logo, Agatu, Gwer-East and Ukum. He also lamented that the inhuman activities of the brutish herdsmen had forced the locals out of their farmlands leading to food shortage, hunger, poverty and untold hardship on the people.
Although, not substantiated by the authorities, these incessant attacks have been, largely, linked to herdsmen believed to be of Fulani extraction who graze cattle on pastures aplenty in this region. “The nomads and local population in Benue have clashed before, but the late February (2016) surge in violence in 10 districts was particularly alarming and UNHCR fears that the problem could flare up again and spin out of control unless immediate measures are taken, including a greater security presence,” the UN Refugee Agency warns here— “…Overgrazing and lower rainfall in recent years has exacerbated the situation by pushing nomads from northern regions to the richer agricultural land further south. The latest clashes were triggered by disagreement over grazing routes and encroachment on farmland,” the agency added.
Corroborating this, Solomon Ogbonna Abugu and Chinwe Obiora Onuba of the Department of Human Resource Management, Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike, in their paper here explained that the change in climate such as depletion in the ozone layer which has led to heat wave, dryness of the rivers and lack of pastures for cattle to graze amongst others has contributed to massive migration of Fulani herdsmen to safe areas of the Eastern and middle-belt region.
And now that the anti-grazing bill has been passed?
After much pressure on the Benue State House of Assembly to pass the Open Rearing and Grazing Prohibition Bill before it, the lawmakers eventually gave an approval in May, 2017. The bill bans herders from grazing from one farm to the other— an activity that has led to clashes between the herders and farmers.
“We considered the bill for a law to prohibit open rearing and grazing of livestock and provide for the establishment of ranches and livestock administration, regulation and control and for matters connected with 2017, having been read for the third time, is hereby passed into law,” announced Terkimbi Ikyange, speaker of the state’s House of Representatives.
A couple of Benue residents who spoke with Ripples Nigeria about the development applauded it. Some, however, remain skeptical about its implementation.
By Femi Owolabi, Ripples Nigeria
Field Assistants: Ember Lim, Ufuoma Oghenerume
Info-graph: Dare Adekoya