Yemisi Fatona, a single mother of three whose only means of survival is farming explained how her land’s open gateways have allowed Fulani cattle to roam freely on her once-thriving cassava farm.
She explained with a faint smile that quickly fades, “I have been farming on the land for close to two years, and I used to harvest large numbers of cassava when it was time for harvesting. But these past few months, the devastation of how most of the crops would have been destroyed by the cattle is all I see. The selling of these crops in exchange for money and using part of it for the sustenance of my family has always brought joy, but now, I only get a little to take home, and it has affected our livelihood. I only have a little profit, which is nothing compared to what I used to get before.”
Her voice trembles as she explains her ordeals and the struggles of providing for her family since the beginning of the Fulani herders attacks on her farm crops.
Meanwhile, the Armed Forces Physical Health School and Games Village project in Esa-Oke, Osun State has become an abandoned project with the area covered in thick bushes.
However, the Esa-Oke community demonstrated resilience by making use of the abandoned land for farming to cultivate crops.
However, their efforts faced challenges from roaming Fulani herders and their cattle, which often damaged their crops.
Mudashiru Obadara’s calloused hands grip his hoe, a tool that has become both his ally and his shield.
The once-fertile farmlands that have sustained his family now bear the scars of relentless intrusion. With each dawn, he rides to his field, bracing himself for the heart-wrenching sight of trampled crops devoured by the hooves of Fulani cattle.
“It’s not just about crops anymore; every crop represents a meal for myself and for my family. These cattle don’t just eat our plants; they consume our hopes. Whenever I come around on the farm, I try to shoo them away and warn their herders, but they only move away when they keep coming back,” he says with a heavy sigh.
“I am a bike rider, and I farm too as a secondary means of livelihood, at least to make ends meet for my family, but with the ongoing destruction of the Fulanis and their cattle, I am beginning to lose hope on the farm, but it is more or less wasting time and resources on the farm.”
The presence of Fulani herders and their cattle has contributed to security challenges and agricultural concerns.
The cattle’s grazing activities have led to damage to crops, prompting the farm owners to voice their complaints over the destruction caused by the cattle, which has compounded the community’s struggles to utilize the abandoned land effectively.
The Armed Forces Physical Health School and Games Village project in Esa-Oke, Osun State, once promised prosperity and development for the armed forces.
With a substantial budget of over N200 million allocated in the 2022 zonal intervention projects, the project aimed to foster physical well-being and camaraderie among the armed forces personnel. However, upon visiting the site, it became evident that the project had been abandoned for many years, leaving behind a desolate and deteriorating landscape.
The project was intended to benefit the armed forces, including the police, army, and other security agencies. While the community provided the land, the project’s ultimate impact on the community remains uncertain, given its primary focus on the armed forces.
“The project was introduced to our community by Honorable Oluwole Oke, the representative of Obokun Local Government Constituency, in 2007. Despite being primarily meant for the armed forces, we had expectations when we agreed to the proposal,” Oba Adeyemi Adediran of Esa-Oke Land explained.
The king elaborated that the project site is situated approximately 8 kilometress away from the residential area of Esa Oke, pointing out that since the project’s abandonment, the land has become accessible to all, leading to challenges.
“This has allowed Fulani herders to bring in their cattle, with estimates of up to 5,000 cattle grazing on the land indicating that the absence of consistent management has given rise to this situation.
“The security guard stationed at the site hasn’t received payment for almost five years. To sustain himself, he resorts to farming on the land and also permits other residents to utilize portions of the land for farming in exchange for compensation.”
Project Cost Escalation
Further investigation into the project reveals a significant disparity between the initially budgeted amount and the actual expenditure. Originally allocated N254 million in 2012, the project’s documented expenses from 2012 to 2017 with a dynamic status of ‘New’ and ‘Ongoing’ have surpassed N1.4 billion.
The project dates back to 2009, with consistent funding allocations continuing until 2022. However, a critical observation emerges – despite the sustained financial support, the project has remained in a state of abandonment for several years. This points to a significant gap between the allocated funding and the project’s completion.
An online document dated July 4, 2018, reveals evidence from the parliamentary records that they have been actively engaged with the issue of the project. In the document, concerns were raised about the project’s state of abandonment despite the allocation of funds for its completion. This parliamentary resolution underscores the project’s significance for the physical readiness of Nigerian Armed Forces personnel and emphasizes the need for its urgent completion.
The excitement and optimism that once surrounded the project have long faded, leaving behind a desolate and deteriorating landscape.
The already constructed buildings that were once symbols of progress now bear the scars of neglect, with their roofs tattered and walls stained by time. The land that was meant to be a thriving hub of activity is now overrun by encroaching vegetation and serves as grazing grounds for cattle.
The buildings, including the library, stadium, and some others whose purpose couldn’t be identified due to the thick bushes, which made it impossible to move closer for proper access, are beginning to deteriorate and are in a state of dilapidated condition.
The stadium, which was supposed to be a covered pavilion housing large and happy crowds, now has its rooftops nearly stripped away by the harsh elements of wind and rain. The paintings on the walls of the building have faded and washed away, leaving only dust.
Why We Keep Mute – King
According to the king, there have been several reported cases of the Fulani attacking farmlands and destroying crops, leaving the farmers devastated by the destruction of their crops.
“The attacks have almost resulted in conflicts between the herders and the farmers when the actions by the herders persisted in destroying farmlands, and we have tried to settle it amicably, but they keep coming back.
“Opposite the abandoned land where some community residents have utilized it for farming, there is a farm settlement given to the government, which later gave it out to farmers as the primary occupation in this community is farming. On that farmland, different kinds of crops are being planted, like cocoa, cocoyam, cassava, and maize, among others, which might be the reason why the cattle are attracted to the particular area.
“Those who farm on the farm settlements are also affected by the Fulani attacks, which is more of a concern to us than those who farm on abandoned land. That is because we have no say over the land, as it has already been given to the government, and we were given no directives to watch over it on their behalf,” the king explained.
“If the land hadn’t been abandoned and utilized as it ought to, there wouldn’t be cases of Fulani attacks, and they wouldn’t have had any reason to patrol the entire area covering the farm settlements as there would be restrictions.”
Contractor Verification and Inactivity
Using keyword search on Google to find the contractor, it was discovered that the project was contracted to a company called Hea Bond to oversee.
Efforts to contact the contracted company responsible for the project’s execution encountered difficulties as attempts to reach the company via email received no response.
The company was listed as ‘inactive’ on the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) platform.
A physical visit was made to the company’s listed address but no company could be found on the provided location.
The abandoned site had become a hotbed of insecurity, a place where lawlessness found fertile ground. Despite having a security guard on site, the lack of proper use of security measures allows thieves and miscreants to roam freely.
The king and the security guard recounted tales of stolen equipment, vandalized properties, and fearsome encounters with the miscreants who had claimed the abandoned facility as their own. The absence of a proper security presence further emboldened these criminals, perpetuating a cycle of fear and desolation.
The security personnel, Ibrahim Dauda, who has been a guard on the land since the commencement of the project, revealed that most of the water heaters, water closets, and wiring installed in the buildings have been carted away by thieves.
He also complained about the land turning into a grazing ground for the Fulani and their cows, destroying some farmers’ crops.
“I was employed by one of the contractors with the name Hea Bond Nig. Ltd. working on this project to safeguard the equipment brought in by their employers, but unfortunately, they stopped coming and stopped working too. Along the way, they stopped coming to work and also stopped paying my monthly salary, and till now, I have been owed a salary for four and a half years. Whenever I call, they complain of not being disbursed money by the government and therefore, can’t pay me,” he lamented.
“Most of the equipment already installed in the buildings has been stolen by thieves. I am not always on duty; I have a farm I am managing as a means of survival, and due to how large this place is, I can’t monitor everything,” he explained.
“There is a case of theft that happened recently where the police after I reported about stolen equipment, caught a young boy who is also a resident of the community suspected of having stolen two water heaters from one of the buildings and trying to sell them to a non-resident of the community. He is now in detention at the state Crime Investigation Department in Osogbo.”
The abandoned facilities, shrouded in thick bushes in various sections of the land, have become the perfect hiding place for those with sinister intentions. Alleged thieves slip through the cracks, seeking refuge within the dilapidated buildings.
One of the farmers who farms on the land, Adebayo Akanni, recalls a chilling encounter when he came to check on his farm.
He says, “I was passing by the stadium building one evening to check my farm when I heard running footsteps opposite my direction. My heart raced, and I hurried away because I have heard cases of robbery happening in the facilities.”
The project’s abandonment has transformed a once-secure community into one plagued by anxiety he adds.
“I used to find comfort in the familiarity of these surroundings, but now every shadow holds the potential for danger, and every sound is a harbinger of uncertainty,” Mr Akanni said.
The site’s increasing reputation as a haven for thieves compounded the community’s hardship. Equipment installed in the already-constructed buildings on the project site have been stolen, creating fear and trepidation among the residents’ farmers.
The king himself advised against visiting the site alone, especially considering the gender of this reporter, and arranged for a bike rider with the security guarding the land to accompany the reporter during a visit to the site.
Environmental Concerns and Erosion
The abandoned project was not only neglected but also faces severe environmental degradation.
The lack of proper drainage and erosion control measures has caused significant damage to the roads on the land. Potholes filled with rainwater have transformed the pathways into treacherous terrain, making them nearly impassable. The unchecked erosion not only poses risk to the abandoned infrastructure but also contributed to broader environmental degradation.
The site displayed clear signs of neglect, with gullies and ditches scattered across the landscape, revealing the impact of unmanaged runoff.
The erosion had taken its toll on the surrounding vegetation, stripping away topsoil and leaving exposed roots vulnerable to further degradation. The community’s efforts to farm the land also suffered as the erosion disrupted their cultivation efforts, causing soil erosion and hampering crop growth.
The king’s account of community expectations underscores the profound echoes of the project’s abandonment in the very fabric of the Esa-Oke community.
The ripple effects extend far beyond neglected buildings and trampled crops; they are etched into the community’s past, present, and future. Through the king’s reflection, the profound economic implications come into sharp focus, casting a shadow over the unfulfilled dreams of prosperity that once glimmered.
“When the project was introduced to us, we had lots of expectations from the completion of the project, which we once believed would bring forth growth and progress to the community. One of our greatest expectations includes galvanizing the economy of the community, but the abandonment of the project has killed that hope.
“Also, we believed that the completion will bring job opportunities/employment to the community, boost the name of the community, and put it on the world map because once the land is utilized for what it is meant for, it will influence and drive visitors and tourists to the community, amongst other complementary services,” the king explained.
The king’s concern resonates as a chorus of missed opportunities that could have blossomed from the project’s completion and vibrant utilization. The unfulfilled promise of jobs, economic activities, and newfound vitality hangs heavy, a missed chance to uplift the community from its struggles.
But even as the landscape of potential dimmed, the community’s spirit did not waver. Attempts to reclaim the land for farming stand as a testament to their resilience. However, their endeavours have not been without trials.
“We had hopes of our town’s name being etched in the annals of progress, but the abandonment is having negative impacts on the communities, which include Fulani attacks on farmlands, a suppressed economy, and wasted land,” the king said.
Funding not implemented as proposed – Oluwole Oke
Despite the initial introduction of the project by the lawmaker, Mr Oke in 2009/2010 during President Yar’adua/Jonathan’s regime, the project has faced significant challenges.
According to Mr Oke when contacted via email, the main obstacles have been inadequate funding and a lack of prioritization by the Ministry of Defence and Armed Forces High Command.
“I have made multiple attempts to address these issues without visible progress. Both the Ministry of Defense and Accountant General Office can provide detailed information on contractors for the various projects of the building and how much they have been paid vis a vis project status.
“During the 8th and 9th assemblies, budget allocations were made for the project, but these funds were not implemented as intended,” he explained.
Contacting the Ministry of Defence Head of Press and Public Relations, Victoria Akem Agba-Attah, on the 9 August, 2023, she asked to be sent the title of the project via SMS and promised to get back with a response but no response was received from her.
She was again contacted on 12 September via WhatsApp text message and phone calls after all efforts by the reporter to get the details of the project and comments from the accountant general’s office and the Ministry of Defence were unsuccessful, but all efforts were not successful as she stopped responding to the reporter’s calls.
An FOI and message were also sent through the Ministry of Defense website through their ‘FOI’ and ‘Contact Us’ pages, respectively, but no feedback was received as of press time.
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