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In Sokoto, Displaced Farmers Suffer Endless Misery as Bandits Wreak Havoc in Nigeria’s Northwest

In this report, Nurudeen Akewushola visited three IDP settlements in the outskirts of Sokoto State to report the anguish of Sokoto farmers whose means of livelihood were affected by bandit attacks.

Displaced Farmers at Goronyo IDPs Camp.
Photo Credit: Nurudeen Akewushola

Muhammad Sanni was lying on a wooden bench in his hut after strenuous work on his farm when he heard a deafening gunshot and yelling from outside. Sanni had planned to go to his farmland the following day to harvest some crops, but he could not — he and his family had to run for their lives.

Muhammad Sanni, a farmer Displaced from Gatawa village seeking refuge at IDPs Settlement in Sabon Birni Local Government.
Photo Credit: Nurudeen Akewushola.

On September 28, a group of bandits sacked Gatawa village in Sabon Birni local government, killed 20 people and displaced many others in the rural community.

The attack came a few days after the bandits outran a military formation and killed 16 officers in the local government.

Like many other farmers in the village, the fifty-five-year-old farmer had to seek refuge at an Internally Displaced Persons(IDPs) settlement in Sabon Birni, Sokoto state.

His agony offers a window into the conditions of several other displaced farmers in Sokoto. They can no longer go back to their farms and live as refugees at several IDP settlements due to the increasing waves of bandit attacks in the state.

Between 2011 and 2020, violence in the Northwest claimed over 8,000 people and displaced over 200,000 others. The situation has since degenerated, giving rise to an alarming humanitarian crisis.

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the total number of displaced persons in Sokoto rose to 56,593 in September, showing a 34 per cent increase compared to 42,241 recorded in February. The growth was attributed to the surge in attacks and other security issues bedevilling the state.

Sabon Birni – one of the worst-hit parts of the state – recorded an estimated 10,086 displaced persons, primarily farmers. This development is significantly responsible for the high cost of food items across the country, say agric experts.

Internally Displaced Persons Seeking Refuge at a Primary School in Sabon Birni LGA.
Photo Credit: Nurudeen Akewushola

“Before the incident, terrorists had always attacked us, robbed us of our possessions, and kidnapped residents in exchange for ransom, but we endured it because we didn’t have anywhere to go until the day this tragedy happened,” Sanni said in a voice punctuated by deep anguish.

“I am a farmer because anyone who resides in Gatawa village engages in farming in one way or the other.  As for my case, I sell my farm produce because I am into large scale farming and I have vast farmland; I plant rice, millet guinea corn, among others, and my harvest this year should be worth about N500,000 because my farm is about 7acres.”

Sanni explained that he would have loved to go back to his farm and harvest his produce for this year but doing that is suicidal as the village has turned to a deathtrap.

Impoverished Farmers Turn to Beggars

Rabbi Alhaji, a resident of Gangara village, engaged in small-scale farming and reared livestock to cater for her five (5) children until bandits forced her out of her community.

Rabbi had to sell her ten goats to sustain herself and the five kids. Today, she is left with nothing and now begging for alms.

Female IDPs seeking refuge at Abdullahi Gobir’s Complex in Sabon Birni.
Photo Credit: Nurudeen Akewushola.

Narrating her story, she said: “As we relocated to this place for safety, I sold all my livestock, and I used the money to take care of my children. But now, the money has finished, we don’t have anything to feed on, we only rely on people around us to help us find something to eat.”

She now stays at Ibrahim Abdullahi Gobir’s complex, converted to an IDP camp for people from villages under Sabon Birni local government. The insecurity in many farming communities in Nigeria has made it impossible for people to plant, thus affecting productivity and causing hikes in food prices.

Ilya Danmadi, a 60-year-old, said the protracted insecurity in the region had cost him his harvest for the year as he could not return to the farm after the terror group sacked his village.

“The value of my harvest was not less than N300,000, but we had to escape and abandon all our belongings,” he lamented.

He believes that as farmers, no amount of relief materials can cater for all their basic needs. He said the only way the government can help is to restore peace in the area or relocate them to a safer place to continue farming.

Danmadi further explained that farmers had customers from different states such as Abuja, Kano, and Kaduna before their displacement. They came to their village to buy farm crops but stopped coming since the community had become a danger zone. Farmers in displaced camps in Goronyo local government have a similar experience as their counterparts in Sabon Birnin.

Kasu Abubakar, 66, was in bed when bandits attacked his village in July. The attack not only left many dead, but it also rendered the farmer homeless.

 “We were sleeping that fateful night when we heard the gunshots, some of us ran away, and some couldn’t. They ransacked our houses and carted away several food items meant for consumption and sales. Since then, we have relocated to this place,” said Abubakar.

Although Abubakar could escape the attack, three of his family members were kidnapped and had to pay N500,000 each to secure their release. But Bawa Isuhu was unlucky. He spent seven days in captivity before his family could raise N400,000 to secure his release from the marauding bandits.

Bawa Isuhu, a farmer who spent seven days in the den of Bandits and was released after N400,000 ransom was paid.
Photo Credit: Nurudeen Akewushola

“They asked for 7 million, but I said even if they sold my entire farm, they wouldn’t be able to raise the 7 million”, but the gang leader would not want to hear his lamentation. He ordered his minions to torture him until he agreed to pay the amount.

“After we agreed to pay the ransom, they stopped beating us, and we engaged in another round of negotiation; that was when we agreed to the ransom fee of N400,000.”

The bandits later called his son home to bring the ransom to a designated location called “Marhalba.” After paying the ransom, the bandits released him and gave him N1000 to take care of himself. The tales accounts of these two farmers mirror the anguish of many other farmers in Sokoto State who have been forcefully displaced by insecurity in the state.

More farmers struggling to survive

It’s a similar story for farmers in an internally displaced camp in Gandi, Rabah Local Government Area (LGA) of Sokoto, Northwest Nigeria. The camp hosts an estimated 8,099 internally displaced persons from Tabanni and other villages in Rabah who were the earliest to experience bandit attack in Sokoto.

At Gandi IDP camp, which hosts most of the IDPs in the local government, 40-year old Ino struggled to narrate the horror that visited her once-happy home in Tabanni village a year ago. Before her eyes, bandits killed her husband, Tukur, a farmer, alongside five other relatives in cold blood.

Ino Tukur, who lost her husband during Tabanni attack and her five children.
Photo Credit: Nurudeen Akewushola

In June 2018, a troop of armed men terrorised  Tabanni village in Rabah local government of Sokoto state, killed at least 39 people, and displaced thousands of residents in the community. The attack was the earliest mass killing by bandits recorded in Sokoto.

Gandi IDPs camp now accommodates most displaced persons in Tabanni and other villages in Rabah Local Government. In September 2018, there were 12,486 IDPs from 18 villages scattered across the town.

The CAMPUS REPORTER learnt that when the IDPs first arrived, they were allotted lands to continue their farming activities, but they were again struck by bandits who ran off with their camels and cattle.

AFAN intervenes

Chairman of the Technical Committe, All Farmers Association of Nigeria(AFAN), Sokoto State Chapter, Muhammad Jamilu Sanni, said one-third of the farmers in the state cannot access their farms because of insecurity, a development already threatening food security in the state.

Jamilu Sanni, Chairman Technical Committee, Association of All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Sokoto Branch.
Photo Credit: Nurudeen Akewushola

He said that the association had helped affected farmers in the state with relief materials to cater to their immediate needs in the meantime.

“When the insurgency started, and people began to have a fear of staying within their villages, we came up with an alternative farming system. We rolled out castor seeds that have a lot of resistance for farmers, particularly in Isa and Sabon Birni. Unlike food crops, castors can tolerate a lot of hardship, and animals cannot eat them. We gave them that, and some of them cultivated it this year. So that when they find themselves in IDPs camp for one month or two months or more, anytime they return to their farms, they can still harvest it.

“As I speak with you, farmers have begun to harvest and bring it to us; we buy and sell it to companies that need it. So instead of going for food crops all the way, we go for the castor. Because food crops cannot survive if they aren’t looked after for about one month or more but castor, they can last for several months if the owner is unable to check the farm,” he added.

He advised the government to put the forests which serve as hideouts for bandits into economic use, such as farming activities. According to him, that’s the only sustainable way to curb the menace of insecurity in the affected areas.

“The government should not only come with security officers to chase bandits away from the forest. They should look at those forests where bandits are hiding, clear them, and put them to economic use; that’s the only sustainable way to solve this problem.”

He said the association is liaising with the security agencies to track the roots of bandits in the state and design a strategy in solving the challenge.

Looming Danger

The Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWS NET ) ‘s recent crisis signalling report warned that the food insecurity in Nigeria might worsen the economic conditions in conflict-affected areas of north-western and north-eastern Nigeria.

The organisation observed that, in addition to flooding, an increase in the level of conflict, particularly armed banditry and kidnapping is the driving force behind the new wave of displacement and disruption to household engagement in livelihood activities, warning that worst harvest outcomes may be experienced in the affected areas.

The report further noted that displacement, the telecommunications blackout, and associated restrictions and military operations had disrupted the ongoing agricultural season in Nigerian Northwest states, noting that displaced households have not farmed because of their inability to access farmland.

Professor Bello Shehu Malami, a professor of Pasture and Range Management at Faculty of Agriculture, Usmanu Danfodiyo University Sokoto, has linked the increase in attacks on farmers to food crises across the nation.

“Breach of the peace of farmers is a direct breach of the peace of the nation. People could virtually do without many things, but not food. This, therefore, means that peace must be found at all costs to maintain our general social and physical security,” he added.

Speaking on the impacts of banditry attacks on food insecurity, he explained that achievement of food security would be impossible if people’s lives and properties were not secured.

“Since banditry activities deny farmers the opportunity to produce by preventing them from going to the farm directly and at such there will be no food for the populace, no raw materials for the agro-allied industries, no employment to the majority of the populace, no foreign exchange for the nation, whereas, at independence, Nigeria’s economy relied mainly on agriculture. At that time, food export accounted for more than 70 per cent of the GNP.”

He further added that despite the decline in agricultural production in the country, the sector still contributes about 29.25% to the Gross National Product (GNP). The crop production sector is the major contributor to the GNP of approximately 91.6%, while livestock and other sectors contribute the rest.

Professor Malami believes that bandit attacks stemmed from farmers-nomadic herders clash; he urged the government to develop a national livestock policy that will be in line with the requirements of the different ecological zones in the country rather than imposing the same policy for all regions.

Several attempts to get a comment from Sokoto State Commissioner for Animal Health, Professor Abdulkadir Usman Junaidu, who is the overseer of the state’s Ministry for Agriculture, prove abortive as of the time of filing this report.

Free Press Unlimited provided support for this report through the Campus Reporter Project of Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism.

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