Menace of Fulani herders and food security

Fulani herdsmen
  • As Barr Igwike and family bemoan loss of farm efforts

Barr Basil Igwike, is a private legal practitioner based in Owerri. Here he narrates how his efforts to teach his children farming and utilize the forced holiday orchestrated by COVID-19 turned an awful experience. Fulani herders moved in with their cows to destroy every effort.
What led to the destruction of your farm?
My brother it is a gory sight, very very unfortunate. During the period of this lockdown I told my kids that I will teach them how to farm for the first time. I went to my land at Avu/Umugwuma area, cleared and cultivated the land, planted cassava, maize, and other crops on the land. It took me time and money to ensure that I farmed on the land. My children were very very happy that for the first time they are embracing farming. When the crops were germinating my children were very very excited at the sight. My children planted the maize, the cassava, and the yams. You can imagine their excitement beholding the fruit of their labour. Sadly few days ago when my wife went to harvest the corns, she met our farm in a deserted state. The cows by the herders entered into the farm fed on my crops, destroyed all the corns, uprooted and destroyed the cassava, destroyed the yams and ate them all. It was as if they were stationed there in my farm, my wife and my first daughter who went with her to the farm started crying. They were crying uncontrollably. When they sent the video clip to me I shed tears. My worry is that this is what farmers experience in this part of Nigeria and nobody is listening to them. I am not talking about the huge amount I spent in the farm but the psyche and mental trauma the experience has caused my children can never be erased. This is my greatest problem. Up till now I am still dumb founded on the level of destruction. The herders and their cows entered my farm with impunity to destroy. That has opened my eyes for the first time. I was asking myself assuming I was around when this people entered my farm land I would resist them. The result could have been disastrous. Perhaps they could have killed me or my family with their AK 47. The worst is that the government doesn’t want to listen. They don’t want to listen to the cries of farmers especially in the Southern part. I don’t know what to say again, I am dumb founded.
Have you made any report to the authorities, either with the police or local authorities and what is the outcome?
Yesterday, when my wife sent the video clips to me I quickly connected the man representing Northern community in Imo. I sent the video clip to him and he promised to revert to my wife. Up till moment I have not heard from him. I am making effort to take the police to the farm to show them the level of destruction in the farm. I want to take it up further to the government house. As a lawyer I cannot keep quiet. Keeping quiet will not solve the problem because of some of the down trodden who have no person to report to and speak for them. I see it as another opportunity to expose further these herders and their level of calamity and atrocity in Igbo land.
How much do you estimate you would have lost from the destruction taking into account your inputs, energy time and expected yield?
I farmed in one and half plots of land. I planted maize, cassava, yam seedlings, water melon, pumpkin leaves. I hired labour that cleared the farm in 3 days and another one week to cultivate it. I bought the yam seedlings, cassava stems, the maize seeds, water melon. To tell you the truth it will be running to half a million. That is just the truth, But my greatest worry and concern is the psyche of my kids. They are still crying up to today. The day they went there and saw what they planted germinating, for the very first time in their lives they were very very excited. For the psyche of my kids I don’t think that we can quantify the level of damages. That is my major concern.
Is this incident peculiar to you or are the people within and around the environment experiencing these damages as well?
Honestly my brother when I was clearing the land some community members in Avu told me that the problem that I am going to experience is the destruction by these herdsmen with their cows. They told me that, that is the reason they no longer farm in that part of Owerri again because each time they farm there they will never harvest any crop. Rather the herdsmen will allow the farm to grow to the point that it can feed their cows before they herd to the place. And that is exactly what I experienced. They allowed the crops to germinate and some got to the point of maturity before they attacked the crops to feed their cows with my products. It is quite unfortunate; they told me this but never understood it this much. But my greatest worry is if every farmer begins to fence their farm lands I don’t know where they will get that amount of money for such a venture. If I had known that I will have this kind of gory experience I wouldn’t have ventured into farming. It’s sad, there is nothing I can do, I am helpless, I don’t know what to say again.
From your explanation this is a common experience in your area?
The local people told that this is what they have been experiencing and if you go to the area you hardly see where people farm.
It is not unlikely that this is the reason we are suffering from scarcity of foods in this state?
Exactly, that is the problem. This is because following the experience I had in this farming season I don’t think that I am going to exact my energy, spend my hard earned money and at the end of the day I will be confronted with this kind of horrible experience. I don’t think that I will go into the farming and that now would definitely not actualize the instruction by the government for the people to go into farming. That is a terrible situation. How can people go into farming and at the end of the day when they expect to harvest their crops the cows will do so for them. Worst is that after feeding on my crops they allow them to pass faeces on my land. It means they allowed the cows on my land for a very long period of time. That actually resulted to the level of damage because I can’t get anything. Everything I planted was destroyed, damaged.
Did you also report to the traditional ruler of the place and the local government authorities and what is the outcome?
This thing just happened yesterday and I intend to meet with him and the police and the police at Umuguma to go and show them the destroyed farm.
What are you telling the government now concerning the incident as a way to resolving the situation for farmers in the state?
My advice to the government is that they should listen to the pulse of the poor masses. They should listen to their heartbeat. People are crying every day and night over the destruction of their farm land. They should listen to us and bring a lasting solution to these reoccurring decimal. It is very very terrible. If the herders cannot keep their cows in a place they should respect others business. Why should they feed on the business of the others? I advise the government to listen to the complaints of farmers and rush to them. They should call the attention of the leadership of the Hausa community in the state to intervene and direct the herders appropriately. The most worrisome part of it is that these people go with arms and if anybody should raise objections they would kill the person. I don’t know if we are in the same Nigeria as we have become slaves in our father land. The government should stop this problem before it escalates. I thank God for my life because if we had been present on the day they took the cows to the farms we would resist them and the effect would have been disastrous

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