At least 13 farmers have been attacked and killed by suspected members of the Boko Haram in communities around Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, in the last two weeks, witnesses and officials have said.
PREMIUM TIMES got information from credible sources about how farmers’ lives continue to be at great risk every day due to the heightened hostile activities of the insurgents.
The Borno government had earlier this year inaugurated the Agro Rangers Programme which enlisted a joint security team of police and vigilante volunteers to protect farmers in locations around Maiduguri.
But it seems the rangers may have been overwhelmed of late due to the increased farming activities associated with the harvest period.
In the last two weeks, several farmers have been killed while harvesting.
“Six farmers were killed on Monday, October 19th, at Moromti, a farming area in between Auno and Maiduguri along the Kano-Maiduguri highway,” said Bunu Mustapha, an operative of the Borno-owned Rapid Response Squad.
“Five of the farmers were beheaded, and one of them, a 45 years old man was shot from the back while he was trying to escape.”
The sources said four of the six slain farmers were brothers who were accompanied by two other paid labourers whom they engaged to help them harvest their crops.
“You know this is the season of harvest for farmers, and most of them have gathered their produce, and are ready to be evacuated from the field, but Boko Haram insurgents are not letting them be.
Neither the Nigeria police nor the military had spoken about the killings.
Barely a week after the incident, another set of farmers were killed by suspected insurgents on Saturday at the same location of Moromti general area.
Sources familiar with the latest attack said nine farmers ran into Boko Haram while on their way to their farms.
“Six were later found with their heads separated from their bodies, while three of them are yet to be accounted for,” said a local villager in Auno who identified himself as Muhammad Bashir.
“It was not a good sight to behold. We had to alert the operatives of Civilian-JTF who moved in to evacuate the bodies.”
Minister of Agriculture, Baba Shehuri, had on Wednesday confirmed the latest attack at a Stakeholders Engagement meeting in Maiduguri.
“Just this afternoon as I was on the way to attend the meeting I got the information about how some eight or there about farmers were killed while harvesting the crops in their farms,” the minister, who is from Borno state, said.
“This is very disturbing and it also indicates how serious the situation our people are facing in this state,” he lamented.
Bereaved relatives speak
Sadiq Abubakar, a relative of four of the six farmers murdered on October 19, confirmed the killings to PREMIUM TIMES reporter who visited the family home in Bulabulingaranam suburb of Maiduguri.
Bulabulingaranam used to be the hideout of the insurgents before they were flushed out in 2013.
Mr Abubakar said his cousins were IDPs who had been living in Bulabulingaranam suburb of Maiduguri.
“They went to harvest crops in their farms on Monday, and they never came back,” he said.
Mr Abubakar, 25, said his cousins had been harvesting their crops in their farms located in Moromti for days.
“On the day they were attacked, the gunmen laid in ambush waiting for them to arrive at the farm before they rounded them up,” he explained.
He said the six slain farmers were in the company of some old female threshers who lived around the farm.
“The gunmen, according to the women who came to alert us, surrounded the farmers, before they separated the men. When they were taking the women away, the gunmen warned the women not to follow them. They told them that if they wanted to see the men return alive, they should not move anywhere from the farm until they return them.
“So the women had to remain on the farm all through Monday until night, and they did not see the six men return to the farm. The next morning the women had to come to the town to report to some security personnel along the highway who later moved into the bush and traced the paths of the insurgents until they later found their bodies – all killed.
“All of them, except the eldest of them, were beheaded. It took time to find some of their heads in the bush before they were later brought home here for burial. Those who prepared the corpses only managed to do so because the corpses were already decomposing due to the intense heat.”
Moromti farming settlement lies along the Maiduguri-Kano highway and until recently had been the only safe route that links Borno state with other parts of the country.
While farmers continued to face deaths in their farmlands, travellers too are not spared from the hostilities of the insurgents.
About three weeks ago, the military launched Operation Fireball, one of the latest counterinsurgency strategies initiated by the Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai, to tackle the “the remnant of fleeing Boko Haram insurgents”.
With the commencement of Operation Fireball about two weeks ago, the military announced that the Maiduguri-Kano highway would be closed to all motorists from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily as troops carry out a search for insurgents along with the bushes of the highway.
The development has, however, made life difficult for residents who now have to grapple with skyrocketing prices of commodities, and also forced travellers to risk moving through the dangerous route during the late hours of the day.
Many lives have been lost either in highway accidents or attacks by the armed insurgents who usually take over part of the busy road as the day darkens.
So far, unconfirmed reports say more than a dozen lives have been lost.
On Monday, October 19, being the same day that six farmers were killed in Moromti farming area, the insurgents staged a deadly ambush during which many travellers including four women were abducted.
One of the abducted women was identified as Jummai Inuwa, whom PREMIUM TIMES gathered from her friends on social media, was due to be wedded next month.
The military has not mentioned the date it will end the daily shutting of the Maiduguri-Kano highway.
The Borno state police command has also not issued any statement on the latest attacks and deaths.
When PREMIUM TIMES contacted the police public relations officer, Edet Okon, he said ”the command does not know of the incidents”.
“Honestly I am not aware of any attack on farmers; nothing like that has been brought to my attention,” he said.
Survivor narrates encounter with insurgents
Meanwhile, Hassan Muhammed, a cameraman with Yobe State television (YTV), was among the lucky travellers who escaped armed insurgents last week Tuesday along the Maiduguri-Damaturu road.
He informed PREMIUM TIMES that the commercial vehicle he was driving was stopped by armed insurgents at a point not far away from Jakana village.
“Our vehicle was stopped by Boko Haram gunmen at about 5.45 p.m., at a spot not more than 2 kilometres away from Jakana village,” he said.
“They parked three vehicles, a Nissan truck and two Toyota Land Cruiser vans, and they were about 40 in number. All of them were armed with AK47 rifles and anti-aircraft guns. They were all teenagers, and I doubt if there is anyone among them that is up to 20 years.
“When they stopped us, there were three vehicles ahead of us. A young man with a rifle came forward and mounted the gun before us while about ten of them came to interrogate us asking for our identity cards.
”After identifying us, they picked a man and a woman whom I guess were staff of some NGOs.”
Mr Muhammed said the insurgents said they were out to intercept a petroleum tanker that was coming from Damaturu.
“They told us that they were not going to harm us, but we had to wait until the petrol fuel tanker they were waiting for arrived. We all waited for about 10 minutes before the arrival of the said tanker.
“The leader among them commanded the truck driver to come down. He then called one of them to take over the truck. But as their driver attempted to move the truck through the bush, the vehicle got stuck.
“After attempting to move the tanker without success, the leader ordered their driver to take one of the Land Cruiser vans to an undisclosed place, and in 15 minutes the driver returned with lots of 25-litre jars.
”They took their time to fill the empty jars and their vehicles before they cleared all vehicles to proceed on their journeys. But they took the man and the woman away.”
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