Nigeria: Special Report - Respite in Ekiti As Govt, Community Efforts Reduce Farmers, Herders Clashes

13 January 2022

Some of the victims are still counting their losses but news of clashes between farmers and cattle herders are becoming few and far between in Ekiti State.

Tosin Akeju watched her husband leave for his rice farm on Friday morning of March 5 in Isaba, Ikole Local Government Area of Ekiti State. It was his way of life. He always returned home, so she least expected anything different. But she became worried when he had not returned at dusk.

His lifeless body was later found in a pool of his blood right in the middle of his farm. He had been shot by persons generally believed to be armed herders. Sharing his fate was his elderly farmworker, Omuse Yusuf, whose body was also recovered from the farm.

Mr Akeju, a.k.a Jisoro, had had an argument with some herders foraging for honey on his farm days earlier. The altercation, according to an eyewitness, ended without any fisticuffs. Although there is no concrete evidence connecting that incident to his killing, residents hold herders responsible for the gruesome murder of Mr Akeju and Mr Yusuf. No one has been arrested for the crime.

Mr Akeju's death left his widow with four little children to raise alone.

"I don't know his offence to have warranted his killing at the farm," she told PREMIUM TIMES in Yoruba. "Some people said the attack was carried out by the Bororos, others said it could be envious Yorubas and fingers have also been pointed at the Ebiras. Whatever the reason, his death was undeserved because he was such a generous man."

The incident reawakened the need to address the rising insecurity in the communities, which had assumed ethnic and political colouration. Many residents believed that the "quietness" of Governor Kayode Fayemi-led administration on the plight of farmers has something to do with the governor's speculated ambition to run for president in 2023. Although this has been denied by the government, the people want strong action from the government to curb the excesses of criminal elements.

Mr Akeju's widow has found small consolation in her employment by Ikole local government on a monthly salary of N30,000.

Opeyemi Yusuf also lost his father, Mr Akeju's farmworker, in the incident, 360 days after the death of his mother. Of the Idoma ethnic group from Benue State, his understanding of what happened is as vague as that of Mrs Akeju. His story revolves around conflicting reports from different sources.

"He was a loving father, caring, gentle and easygoing," he told PREMIUM TIMES. He still could not understand why anyone would take the life of such a man.

The state government has also mitigated his pains with employment by the Ikole local government. But he remains concerned about the state of security in the country. He thinks the government should legalise the bearing of arms by individuals for self-protection.

Ilori's Fall In Orin Ekiti

While Mrs Akeju still has tears in her eyes five months after the killing of her husband, it has been three years since Rachael Ilori lost her own husband. He was also shot by suspected herders at Premier Farm Settlement in Orin Ekiti, in Odo-Osi Local Government Area of the state.

The farm was built in 1959 by the civilian government of late Obafemi Awolowo in the defunct Western Region. The settlement had a 96-room apartment, piggery, poultry, ranches and fish farms. It employed hundreds of citizens but was left to decay. Olusegun Oni, who was governor of Ekiti State between May 29, 2007, and October 14, 2010, tried to revive the farm but did not do much until he was removed from office.

The settlement, situated on a plateau about 400 metres above sea level, is about six kilometres from Orin town. Because of the elevation, it takes about 30 minutes to access the farm on foot. The road is fairly motorable even though it is untarred. But it is difficult in the rainy season except for tractors and four-wheelers. The farm infrastructure is largely abandoned. The sheds for livestock such as the piggery and poultry have become hideouts for kidnappers.

On the night of June 28, 2019, rumours filtered into the town that some "strangers" had taken shelter at the Premier Farm Settlement with their cattle. The villagers feared that allowing the herders to remain there could spell disaster for the farmers. Emmanuel Ilori, a farmer and famous hunter, was one of those who went to the site to chase away the herders. But the intruders, who were armed with automatic rifles, shot him from the dilapidated piggery in which they were hiding. By the time reinforcement came from the settlement, the attackers had fled.

Rachael recalled that the herders had earlier grazed her husband's four acres of maize, causing losses estimated at millions of naira. He rejected a N50,000 compensation offered by the Fulani leaders in the state. Although it has been two years since Mr Ilori died, his 65-year old widow has not recovered from the nightmare.

A year earlier, Premier Farm Settlement was the scene where a pregnant farmer was shot and butchered by suspected herders, who were reportedly on a reprisal attack over the killing of one of their own by farmers.

In October this year, farmers reported that their farms at the settlement were heavily grazed by cattle at night. Some of the farmers lamented the losses due to the action of the herders.

Many more have died in recent times due to the conflict. In Ekiti, the farmers' association said 25 farmers were killed in the last three years in clashes with herders. The herders also submitted that several herders have been gruesomely murdered in the communities.

The clashes result largely from the destruction of crops by livestock as herders have seen their usual grazing areas increasingly put to farming, making their search for grazing land more challenging.

However, the outrage in recent times had been the brazen destruction of farmlands.

Ineffective Anti-Open Grazing Law

Ekiti State in 2016, under the administration of Ayo Fayose, enacted a law banning open grazing in the state, thus becoming the first state in the South-west to enact such a law. In spite of this development, open grazing is still witnessed in the states. PREMIUM TIMES reporter in the course of this investigation, saw cows moving freely in the rural communities visited.

The law provides that anyone caught grazing on portions of land or any farmland not allotted by the government is liable to prosecution and herdsmen caught with firearms and any weapon whatsoever during grazing "shall be charged with terrorism."

The law also allows confiscated cattle to be taken to a government cattle ranch at Erifun and Iworoko Ekiti, while farm crop destroyed by the activities of any herder shall be estimated by agricultural officers and paid by the culprit. Violators of the law are liable to six months' imprisonment without the option of a fine.

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The All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN) in Ekiti State, however, believes that the law is ineffective because cattle are still roaming around without any restriction in most places in the state.

The chairman of AFAN, Adebola Adeniran, said the anti-open grazing law in the state was not being properly implemented, resulting in the continuous incursion into farms by nomads.

"The problem is still persisting in Ekiti," he told PREMIUM TIMES in December 2021. "It is even more of a triplet thing. It is about herdsmen, banditry and kidnapping. As of yesterday, about 12 people were kidnapped to show you that the issue is still very much around. It has not been eliminated.

"To me, most of the steps taken by the government are more or less political. When you enact a law and you don't put it into effect, it is as good as just making a political statement.

"We still have cattle rearing all over the place, even in the cities. This is just a clash between the elites and the poor people of the state. The elites, the businessmen are the ones having the cattle around."

All Is Well

But the information commissioner for Ekiti State, Akin Omole, disagrees with the association. He argued that the farmers would need to produce specific "particulars of the complaint" or a breach where the government failed to take appropriate action. He said the law was being fully implemented in spite of challenges.

"If there is a law in place, there will still be some people who want to breach it," he said. "The law enforcement agents must come in to bring lawbreakers to book. It is not that when the law is there, there will be full compliance immediately."

He said several arrests had been made by Amotekun, adding that there has been a great improvement in addressing the problem.

"Somebody may say I saw herdsmen in my farm and reported to government and they did not do anything. That is a specific complaint. But when you are talking generally that it is not effective without putting across to me what are the things that made you say it is not effective, you must state instances of the happenings before we can come to that statement," Mr Omole further said.

Farmers count losses

Ezekiel Alagbalaowo farms cassava, maize and yams at Orin Premier Farm Settlement. He told PREMIUM TIMES that he lost three hectares of maize to cattle grazing in 2020. "We reported the matter at the Civil Defence, nothing came out of it," he said. "I borrowed the money from the bank, I am still repaying the loan as we speak."

Mr Adeniran, as the leader of the farmers in Ekiti, surely knows where the shoe pinches. He said aside from many lives that were lost, many have lost their farms to herders' activities.

"The association took a hundred hectares of land from the government. Because of the herdsmen, we are not able to operate there effectively, coupled with the kidnapping and the herders ravaging the farms," Mr Adeniran said. "We are feeling the pain. When we take money from the banks or other micro-finance banks, at the end of the day it is difficult to redeem the loans."

Herdsmen Count Losses Too

While the farmers have been crying of attacks and killings within their fold, the Fulani herders have also suffered attacks from angry farmers or criminal herders whose identities could not be determined.

Ibrahim Mumini, a herder and spokesperson for the Fulanis resident in Ekiti, while admitting that some herders had been involved in the destruction of farms, also said some Fulanis had suffered losses and fatal attacks. According to him, some had been killed.

He said three years ago, a Fulani man was shot in Moba Local Government Area of Ekiti State, and later died from the wounds. He said in 2021, two Fulani herders were attacked but survived. Mr Mumini also recalled that early in the 2021, a very sad incident occurred in Oke-Akoko in Ikole Local Government, where two Fulani boys disappeared.

"At Ipao Ekiti a Fulani man was clubbed to death by the people of the town. In fact, the case is still in court," he told PREMIUM TIMES. "So it is not only the farmers that are suffering or recording casualties."

Mr Mumini also said the herders attacking farmers were not those resident in the state. He said it is criminally minded herders from outside the state that are over-running farmlands and sometimes harming farmers who tried to stand against them.

"We have been here for decades and this is our home. We cannot destroy anybody's farm because the farmers know us, they know where we live and when our herds are involved, we know how to trace the culprits and get them to pay compensations," he said.

Mr Mumini said herders also suffered from kidnappings and related a story of how the Serikin Fulani was kidnapped in Orin Ekiti in 2014 and was only set free after N4 million ransom was paid.

"One Alhaji Tahir was also kidnapped along with his wife and daughter in May this year, but were released after N4million ransom was paid. Also on October 31, another Fulani man was kidnapped at Itaji Ekiti," he said in December 2021.

The current state of affairs

The Asaba of Isaba Ekiti, Adeyanju Oluwaseun, who is the traditional ruler of the Isaba community, spoke to PREMIUM TIMES on the phone. He said the death of Mr Akeju was not traced to herders, contrary to speculations. The monarch said efforts were being made to ensure peaceful coexistence between the herders and farmers in the state and peace had been fostered among them.

"I can say that there has never been any conflict in my town regarding herders and farmers," the 37-year-old traditional ruler said. "Nobody can confirm that the killing of Jisoro was carried out by herdsmen, not even the police can confirm that."

He, however, admitted that there had been cases where farmers complain that their farms were grazed by cattle.

"There have been strict instructions to my subjects that there should be no confrontation and that if anybody sees a Fulani or herdsmen in their farms they should report to me," he added.

At Orin Ekiti, farmers also testified that the clashes had ceased. It was gathered that the combined efforts of the security agencies, youth groups, hunters and the traditional rulers of the community drove the intruders from the town.

The Youth Leader of the town, Martins Omotoso, told PREMIUM TIMES that the community had faced the herders-farmers conflict for over 10 years. "We thank God by March this year we drove them away from the community through the help of journalists, security agencies and the community using their own traditional way," he said.

"Before then, nobody could go to the farm. Whatever you had in the farm would be grazed before you return to the farm. Then, we could only grow cash crops like palm trees or other trees. Nobody could plant maize or yam or cassava. They also destroyed the land. After the cows have left the places, farming is usually difficult there. There was fear because at that time people could not go to the farm. Those who would go to farm would do so early and in groups."

Mr Omotoso showed off his harvest of maize this year which was well over 15 tonnes, saying that it would have been impossible if the herders were still around.

Mr Alagbalaowo also confirmed having a bumper harvest this year.

For Mr Amole, the information commissioner, there is relative peace due to the efforts of the government and security agencies to tackle the problem.

"But for me and for the government in this state, when it comes to herders and farmers' clashes, we have drastically reduced it," he said.

"Definitely, you have not been hearing much about that again. If issues happen it will be in the news. So this thing has been drastically reduced, but there could still be some breaches."

Police, Amotekun tell their stories

The police said they had addressed the issues despite the complaints of the farmers. Sunday Abutu, the police spokesperson in the state, said there had been no clashes due to measures taken by the police.

"There has not been herders and farmers clashes recently because the command has been able to create a synergy between the herders and the farmers," Mr Abutu said. He also denied that the police had been unprofessional in handling cases reported to it, saying such allegations were unfounded and should be disregarded.

"The command has asked every person to report whenever they see strange faces around," he added.

The Ekiti Amotekun Corps Commander, Joe Komolafe, a retired brigadier-general, said its major challenges in dealing with the crisis were its inadequate logistics and personnel, the lack of modern communication and technological equipment and the restriction on the corps to bear arms. He also identified the failure of complainants to report cases promptly as another limitation to the effective handling of conflicts.

"To a very large extent we have been able to reduce the menace of herders, farmers clashes," he said.

"What we do is that when you bring in such complaints, we mediate between the farmer and the herder. When we arrest the offenders, the complainants will come and both parties will go to the farm to assess the damage and agree on palliatives for the owner of the farm and the owner of the cow pays. His payment is documented before they are released.

"There are some herders that are always on the move, and sometimes they can leave behind two or three cows that would be arrested, especially the foreigners. When we wait for a number of days and they don't come, we transfer the cows to Ekiti State Livestock department. When they eventually come, they will pay fines to the coffers of the government.

"When we came in it was a daily occurrence but as time went by the whole thing reduced. We have made efforts on enlightenment campaigns."

To deal with the problems effectively, the Amotekun commander said the corps would need vehicles. He said the law that retrains it from bearing arms should be repealed.

He also said the corps would need technology for tracking and precision, in order to make its job of policing the forest areas easier.

"Here we are talking of trackers, drones and even modern and effective communication. Even in areas where there are no signals, if we have satellite-based phones, we can be anywhere and communicate with our men effortlessly. These items will reduce the dangers our men face every day," he said.

Finding a lasting solution

Mr Mumini said Fulani herders are not comfortable with the ban on open grazing, saying it would not be easy to suddenly end nomadism. The Ekiti State Government is planning to create a ranch for the herders, but Mr Mumini said the ranch cannot contain all the herders. But he said the group has a proposal, which if adopted, would greatly reduce the conflicts and help check criminal elements among the herders.

First, they want ranches built in the three senatorial districts. Mr Mumuni said herders were willing to go into the ranches provided the government provides them schools, health facilities and other social amenities.

The group had earlier proposed a task force comprising the operatives of government and herders to help police the forest and ensure harmony among farmers and herders. According to Mr Mumini, the government rejected that proposal but agreed to register all Fulani herders.

Mr Omole said the Commissioner for Agriculture, Olabode Adetoyi, would provide details on the efforts of the government to address the situation.

"I know government is addressing all these issues," he said. "When there is a problem, people want immediate solutions to the problem. But there are no quick solutions to such problems."

Mr Omole said it would be impossible to eradicate clashes. "There are some crimes that you cannot eradicate. Most of these clashes happen in remote areas and how many policemen are in these areas? Before the policemen get there they would run away into the bush," he said.

Mr Adetoyi said he would not make any comments on the matter. The Amotekun Corps Commander said with the setting aside for them of a large area in Ikole Ekiti (which is the hotbed of the crisis), herders could establish ranches. He said if the policies were carefully followed they would end the bloody clashes and deliver the needed development in the agricultural sectors for herders and farmers.

Support for this story was provided by the Center for Democracy and Development (CDD) under its 'Strengthening the Delivery of Peace and Security (SDPS) project'.

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