At the inception of his administration, Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State made it clear to the people of his determination to boost the agricultural sector so that the state maintains its position on the nation’s map as the “Food Basket of the Nation”.
The governor had said unequivocally that “In agriculture, our expected outcome is to extend our calling as ‘Food Basket of the Nation”, to include processing of agroproducts. We will do this by developing the sector through the introduction of simple technology driven systems and targeted interventions involving agro-processing, improved marketing channels, inputs and rural infrastructure”. Ortom administration met a severely depressed economy. There was no motivation for farmers as cases of fake fertilizer bags procured by the then government ended the hopes of peasant farmers over improving on their produce.
This made the farmers who constitute 80 per cent of the state’s population but without an option remain on their farms. In a state with a farming population of about 3.5 million people and arable land of 25, 000 square kilometers, farmers had access to only eleven functional tractor units operated by the state’s Tractor Hiring Agency.
The governor’s focus on agricultural value chain is aimed at maximising the multiple agric benefits and create more jobs for youths of the state. He had said Benue, as the Food Basket of the Nation, was aware of the huge expectations on it to lead the agriculture revolution of the country, stressing that the current efforts being made by his administration to encourage farmers of the state will be sustained.
He said: “Benue has comparative advantage in agriculture and our administration is doing everything to ensure that farmers have value for their produce. Our focus is on the agriculture value chain which we are certain has the capacity to create thousands of jobs for the youth”. The Ortom’s administration has also supported farmers in the state to acquire modern agricultural equipment to boost their productivity.
The administration took steps to ensure food security such as: the signing of the Anti Open Grazing Law to create a peaceful environment for agriculture and other economic activities; revamping of the Benue Fertilizer Blending Plant; promoting processing of agriculture products; encouraging dry season farming through email of dams for irrigation; procurement of fertilizer for farmers; facilitating the enrollment of Benue farmers in the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Anchor Borrowers programme; signing of MoU’s with Bank of Industry to empower farmers and facilitating loans from Bank of Agriculture for farmers in the state at low rates among others.
But the good intention of the governor has become tales and nightmares as killing of innocent peasant farmers by pastoralists terrorists herdsmen has since taken toll on food production in the state a development that has given way for the displacement of over two million Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) now wallowing in designated and unofficial camps.
It is indeed a sad commentary that, the killings have gone a long way to scare away foreign investors that would have been encouraged by the governors positive disposition to the sector to come and invest into the agribusiness in the state. Recurring attacks have led to food shortages and price surge.
It is five years now since most of the IDPs have been living in the camps lacking most of the basic social amenities including food clothing and shelter. Besides, they have been confronted severally with diseases like malaria, cholera, measles, chicken pox, diarrhea, scabies and so on.
Today, in the history of the country, no state tells a better story of how insecurity could take a toll on the nation’s food supply and security than Benue. The All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Benue State chapter, said at least 45 per cent of farmers had been displaced in the state since the crisis escalated in 2018.
“Farmers in so many local government areas of Benue State are not able to cultivate crops. Half of Guma Local Government Area is left to insecurity. Farmers are all in IDP camps. So many farmers are being killed”, said Sam Kwana, AFAN chair in the state. Mr. Kwana noted that “In Gwer-West, three-quarters of the arable land lay fallow due to insecurity.
There are no farms. In Kwande LGA, you have majority of the people not farming, because most of the farmers were chased out of their homes by the herdsmen conflict. So, there is a real food shortage in the state. That is why prices of garri, cassava, and yam are so high”.
He painted a gloomy picture of the food crisis that awaits Nigeria if the problem is not brought under control. “The future for crop farmers is bleak because this is the time that herders come to destroy harvests from the farms. So the shortage will be much”, he said.
The Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), the association of pastoralists whose members are blamed by farmers for the crisis, agreed on the negative impact of the crisis on farming. Barely five years ago, 48 hours after the mass burial of 73 victims of the herdsmen attacks in the state, National Vice President of Miyetti Allah Cattle Herders Association, Husaini Yusuf Bosso, warned that more blood will be shed in the state if the antigrazing law introduced by Governor Ortom was not completely scrapped.
But Governor Ortom has said severally that there is no going back on the law adding that the attacks by cattle herders and blackmail would not stop the enforcement the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law in the state which he said is the only panacea to ending the years of conflict.
The governor maintained that no amount of threat, intimidation, or arm twisting will make him repeal the anti-open grazing law. The law which was promulgated in 2017, was amended this year by the state House of Assembly providing stiffer penalties for offenders. It provides for a 14 year jail term with an option of N5 million fine for anyone caught engaging under aged children for grazing in any part of the state.
Governor Ortom had accused President Mohammadu Buhari of keeping quiet about the Killings in the state, stressing that even the N10 billion he promised the state to facilitate the resettlement of the IDPs has not been redeemed barely five years ago.
Ortom said the action of the President has pushed him to believe “to think that what they say about him (Buhari) that he has a hidden agenda in this country is true because it is very clear that he wants to Fulanise but he is not the first Fulani president”.
“Shagari was a Fulani President, Yar’Adua was a Fulani President and they were the best in the history. But President Buhari is the worst President when it comes to issues of security and keeping his promises”.
It is noteworthy that apart from the law, the state has also floated the Livestock Guards security outfit to assist the conventional security checkmate the excesses of the armed Fulani insurgents. It is apparent that the incessant attacks on farmers and their farmlands in Benue state, which have claimed hundreds of lives and the destruction of property worth hundreds of millions of naira, have resulted in food shortage with a sharp rise in prices across the state and its environs. It has similarly, disrupted all-season farming activities in the state and adversely affected food production and the economy of the state.
As a result of these onslaughts, the swathes of bustling farmlands that normally produce a variety of cash and food crops have been deserted as the herdsmen, who attack, destroy and kill, have not been sparing in their assaults. Consequently upon the attacks and desertion of farmlands by farmers, most food markets have become scanty and the bustling fresh farm foods have also dried up, leaving buyers and consumers with little or no alternatives.
The consequence of these violent attacks is the spike in the prices of the little available food in the state which expectedly have gone beyond the reach of the ordinary man. Also the Internally Generated Revenue, (IGR) profile of the government has been adversely affected given the loss of revenue accruals from farm produce across the state.
This troubling situation in Benue has become a source of serious concern to women in the state under the aegis of “Concerned Benue Mothers”, who decry the spate of killings in the state and the failure of the Federal Government to stem the tide, warning that the seeming failure of the government to address the herdsmen menace could trigger the worst food crisis in the state.
Spokesperson of the mothers, and former federal lawmaker, Mrs. Rebecca Apedzan, noted that the unchecked attacks on farmers in Benue State had resulted in food crisis and might escalate to a more dangerous dimension if not stopped. The same fear has also been expressed by a former acting Director General of Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON), and Benue State governorship aspirant, Dr. Paul Angya, who decried the spate of attacks on communities in the state. Dr. Angya noted: “It is now obvious to everyone that these attacks by armed herders on Benue communities have led to sharp drop in food production in the state by over 50 percent.
And we all know what that means to the food security of the state and indeed the country because Benue contributes in no small measure to the food security of this country”, he added. A trader, Margaret Num, recounted how her brother was killed in his farm in Gwer West LGA by armed herders when he made efforts to access the farm in order to plant his grains.
“Two of my brothers went to Bu-Naka our village in Gwer West LGA to plant millet only for them to be confronted by armed herdsmen who shot and killed one of them while the other escaped.
“We were not able to recover his corpse and all our farmlands had been occupied by these killer herdsmen so nobody is farming anymore in our communities. That is the reason why we do not have anything to sell to the people because we cannot engage in farming activities in our communities until the herdsmen are chased away from our villages.
On her part, Grace Anule who said she lost her father to herdsmen attacks in Yelwata, Guma LGA, lamented that the community has been deserted due to the continuous attacks by herdsmen, leading to acute food shortage and high prices for local cash crops like millet, corn, guinea corn, maize, yam, soya beans, melon, pepper and tomato and a host of others.
While efforts of the state government at ending the herdsmen attack on Benue farmers deserves commendation, the federal government should as a matter of fact, immediately come to the support of the state irrespective of political affiliation to finally put the matter to bed to enable the displaced persons go back to their ancestral homes, and farmers in general the desired protection as this is a measure towards ensuring food sufficiency and production in the country.
We’ll restore security in Benue -CP
Commissioner of Police in Benue State, Mr. Adewale Abbas lamented the killings, promising to restore peace in the state.
Speaking in Makurdi, Abbas regretted nefarious activities of the killers stating that they are a threat to security of the state, and inhibited its agricultural practices as Food Basket of the Nation. At least five people, including two policemen, a university lecturer and two others were allegedly killed in separate attacks on two Local Government Areas of Benue State a couple of days ago.
Abbas said the state has suffered series of attacks in recent times, but expressed the continued action against all forms of criminalities in the state in consonance with the directive of the Inspector- General of Police. He stated that he stated that gunmen activities and that of he stated that gunmen activities and that of cultists are the most common forms of crimes in the state and the police and working with stakeholders to stem the tide.
“We have observed that cultists are wreaking huge havoc in the state, especially at the North Bank of the River Niger, because these cultists graduate to become robbers and sundry criminals. Hence we have engaged with stakeholders and volunteers to address the issue.
“In view of the fact that the police do not have the sufficient manpower, we get support from the volunteers to stel cultism, criminality and kidnappers in the state, and it is paying off, because we have reduced the crime rate in the state by over 30 per cent.
“We have also handled intra and intercommunal crises, among Tiv, Idoma, Igede and Agatu people, through various means which I cannot explain here with the view to promote peace and security in the state. I want to call on all stakeholders to live within the ambit of the law because all violators will be brought to book.”