(This is the second part of a series on the impact of banditry on rural Katsina communities. Read the first part here).
Misbahu Usman was sitting on a wooden bench under a veranda in the company of some middle-aged men. They were discussing local politics and governance when this reporter and his guide met them that Thursday morning in August in Bakin Kuka area of Jibia town of Katsina State. It was 11:30 a.m.
“We should be in our farms by this time,” Mr Usman said. His friends nodded in agreement. “But look at us here, arguing and talking. What else can we do? We are idle because our farms are now a no go area.”
Mr Usman had not been to his farm since the start of the rainy season. He said it would be suicidal to go to the farm because it is far from the town.
“Those who have farms in the town or near the town are lucky,” he said to PREMIUM TIMES.
Farming in an era of banditry
As banditry ravages Nigeria’s North-west states, farmers, especially in rural communities, are fleeing their farms. Cattle rustling used to be the predominant crime in rural Katsina, but now kidnapping has taken the centre stage and disrupted farming activities. Many farmers are either kidnapped for ransom or killed on their farms.
Many abandoned their farms because of incessant attacks by bandits on their communities. But in some parts of the states, according to some farmers who spoke to this newspaper, farming has been made pointless by the unrealistic levies imposed on farmers by the bandits.
“We gathered over N700,000 and took it to the bandits in the forest just for them to let us go to our farms,” Musa Sanusi, a young farmer in Yankara, Faskari Local Government Area, said.
Tired of running away from the bandits, Mr Sanusi said farmers in the area met the bandits controlling their area to strike a deal.
“We contributed the money to give to the bandits. They accepted the money and promised us that nothing would happen to any of us after that.”
But the safe passage that the bandits sold to the farmers was fake.
“A few weeks after we paid N700,000, some of our friends were again attacked. When we went back to complain, the bandits’ leader said it must have been another gang that carried out the attacks. That was when I finally gave up.”
Alhaji Ashiru holds the traditional title of Dan Masanin in Jibia. He said banditry has made him stop going to his farms.
“I have a farm of about 43 hectares in Shimfida village where I used to plant maize, millet, guinea corn, beans and other crops. But I stopped going to the farm or sending workers there because I encountered the bandits twice. I was lucky that I or any of my workers was not kidnapped.”
He said he abandoned all his farms located outside the town.
“I have many farms in villages around us but I have abandoned them all for now. The one in Faru was the last to be abandoned two years ago. Even if you want to continue, will anyone agree to go and work for you?” Mr Ashiru said.
Sale Mareni, who is in his 80s, is also a large-scale farmer in Jibia. He said he has forgotten about his farms.
“I asked them (my children) to stop sending workers and stop going to the farms because you cannot sacrifice the lives of your children because of farming. I have been a farmer all my life and I know nothing else. Everything I have is because I am a large-scale farmer. But this time is difficult for us. In all my years as a farmer, I had never witnessed a situation like this.”
Mr Mareni sadly recollected how his house used to be a beehive of activities during the harvests. But he no longer has anything to reap.
Murtala Yankara is a farmer in Yankara in Faskari Local Government Area. His village was attacked several times by bandits. He said the targets were usually the farmers.
“Most of the attacks end up on us,” he said. “They hardly come into the town (Yankara) but wait outside for returning farmers or attack farmers in their farms.”
Mr Yankara was never personally attacked but said most of his friends have relocated to the southwestern part of Nigeria because of the menace of the bandits in their own state.
Why did he stop going to his farm?
“About this time last year, two of my younger brothers and I were working on the farm when I heard the roaring of their (bandits’) motorcycles. We knew they had seen us because they quickly stopped and started discussing amongst themselves.
“I told my younger brothers to run towards the village while I waited. They would have shot at us if we had all run at the same time. I was waiting for them to seal my fate, but they decided to go without even talking to me. However, the following morning, they attacked the village and kidnapped some of my neighbours.”
He said most of his neighbours abandoned their crops on the farm during the 2020 harvest.
“I lost all of my produce because I could not go to the farm. Soybeans, guinea corn and maize. Millions of naira gone just like that.”
Some who wanted to dare the risk said they gave up because their farmworkers refused to go with them.
“Those with cow carts for harrowing would not go so how do we even work on big farmlands like ours?”
Muntari Mosko is also a young farmer in Jibia. He has a shop but says farming is his main occupation.
“The bandits have taken over our farms. In Mallamawa village (in Batsari Local Government Area), they have taken away farms from their owners. Nobody goes to the farm anymore in that area.”
Over 5,000 farms abandoned in 2020 – Governor’s aide
The Special Adviser to the Katsina governor on agriculture, Abba Abdullahi, acknowledged that the situation in the state was dire.
He said farming has been badly hit by insecurity despite the efforts of the government and security agencies.
“To be honest with you, insecurity has affected farming activities in no small measure in Katsina State. Last year (2020) alone, we recorded 5,884 abandoned farmlands covering over 58,330 hectares. There were also 590 cases of kidnapping while 159,613 cattle were rustled. It is heartbreaking.”
He said official record showed that 226,650 farmers in the state were affected by the activities of bandits that year. He said the cases were reported in the 10 frontline local government areas of the state.
The so-called frontline local government areas are Jibia, Kankara, Batsari, Safana, Danmusa, Faskari, Sabuwa, Dandume, Kurfi and Dutsin Ma.
These are the areas where banditry is most prevalent in Katsina State. Some of them because of their closeness to the dreaded Rugu forest. Jibia also shares boundaries with Zamfara State and Niger Republic while Dandume, Sabuwa and Faskari share boundaries with Zamfara, Kaduna and Niger states.
According to the governor’s aide: “This affected farm produce output by 30 per cent, which has made things difficult for farmers and affected food security. We expect that it will affect our output by 15 per cent this year.”
Mr Abdullahi, however, said farmers in some areas had started returning to their farmlands, due to the efforts being made by the security agencies.
Banditry has dragged us backwards – AFAN
The Chairman of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria in the state, Yau Gwajo Gwajo, said the activities of bandits have greatly affected farming especially in the local areas of Katsina.
“Last year was horrific for us. Our members were forced to abandon their farmlands,” Mr Gwajo Gwajo said. “We recorded huge losses especially in the frontline areas because farmers were afraid of going to their farms.”
Asked if they had made efforts to secure compensation for the farmers, Mr Gwajo Gwajo said the government was supporting farmers but said “it goes beyond support.
“Farmers’ greatest asset is their farmlands and that is what they need. We have witnessed some improvement in some areas compared to last year but we want a situation where every farmer can go to his farm without having to worry about his safety.”
It is affecting food security – Lecturer
A lecturer at the department of Basic and Applied Science at Hassan Usman Katsina Polytechnic, Suleiman Iguda, spoke of many cases of farmers being chased out of their farms, theft of cattle, seizure of farmlands, burning and raiding of grain silos, killing and kidnapping of farmers.
“The first implication of these attacks is reduction in the number of farmers. There is impoverishment of farmers because due to the killings, farmers are not willing to go to their farmlands as they will be chased out.
“Cattle rearing has also become difficult because there is reduction in the quantity of crops stored in grain silos,” Mr Iguda said.
Mr Yankara, the farmer in Fiskari Local Government Area, said he could only dream of a future when farmers in the troubled areas can return to their farms without fear of attacks or having to pay bandits for permission to work on their own farms.
“When you take away farming from a village man, what else do you leave him with? All we know is farming and this is our life. We hope that one day, this too will be history. It is not easy but Allah will not let the bandits continue to win.”
(Support for this report was provided by Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism with funding support from Free Press Unlimited).
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