Plateau: War by Starvation

FARMLANDS across many communities in Plateau State have been turned into battlefields having been decimated and destroyed by ‘unknown’ people. They are often carried out in the dead of the night. Their activities have left several questions as to their motives, even as it has opened a window for the scarcity of food next year. KATDAPBA Y. GOBUM examines the implications of the action on farmers, families and the economy of the state.

In the last couple of weeks, the world may have seen and read on several platforms, the picture of a woman as many others in different communities of Plateau State lamenting in utter disgust while they watch as their farms crops were destroyed. The savagery has continued unabated on farmlands across several communities in the state with no one being caught for the crime.

For starters, these acts are not the first; as over the years, Plateau communities have witnessed the orchestration of this madness, where farmlands with fresh crops waiting to be harvested are cut down in the most malicious manner. The fact that no one has been apprehended over time is a cause for concern. Whoever has planned it clearly aims to inflict pains on the people of the communities, and at best achieve an aim of bringing the communities on their knees.

It has been revealed that the farmlands in question belong to farmers in Riyom, Barkin Ladi, Jos South and Bassa local government areas communities of Plateau State. The people of these areas have received the greatest amount of pounding, killings and all manners of atrocities in several years running. Sadly however, the perpetrators are still at large.

It will be recalled that it was in one of these local government areas that a serving Senator, Gyang Dantong and a member of the Plateau State House of Assembly, Hon Gyang Fulani lost their lives on July 8, 2012.

As representatives of the people of the area, they had gone on sympathy visit as well as witness the burial of those villagers earlier killed in the week, however shocked by the situation; they collapsed and were taken to Barkin Ladi General Hospital where they were pronounced dead.

Since this incident, many more have been killed as land grabbing had taken center stage in those areas. The modicum of peace that had ruled the state over the years left without notice; no thanks to a band of blood sucking ‘unknown gunmen’ who have always disappeared into the thin air after any raid; leaving families in communities lamenting.

It is unfortunate and the repercussions are enormous for the future. Even as it is now, given the hard conditions people face, the high prices of food items in the markets are scary. There are severe indications that the challenges of food security will hit hard.

Already things are hard to the point that the House of Representatives recently called on the Federal Government to convoke a Special Economic Roundtable with a view to address all the challenges being faced in the country. The House had asked the Federal Ministry of Commerce, Trade and Investments to ‘devise new intervention strategies to cushion the harsh effects of economic hardships, particularly the raging food crisis in the country’.

Already, ‘hunger and unemployment are fueling the worsening misery index in the country. The worsening insecurity across the country has also driven farmers away from their farms, despite the onset of the planting season. This has resulted in acute food shortage and high cost of food’.

The farms are insecure as farmers can’t visit them except they are protected. But for how long shall they continue to be, as they are restricted and chased away and in most cases slaughtered in the most condemnable manner. The fear of being killed while out on the fields, and in their homes bring goose pimples on their faces, as that alone is cause for concern.

Sadly again, the activities of criminal elements, kidnappers and bandits have negatively impacted on the lives of people in different communities.

Mr. Jonathan Ishaku, a former General Manager of the Plateau Publishing Corporation and prolific writer wrote recently in what he called ‘war by starvation’ that ‘the destruction of food crops in the Middle Belt has since become a pattern this season’.

For the search for peace to be sustainable all over the state, however, the Plateau State Peace Building Agency urgently requires to embrace a micro level approach; in order to address concrete local issues in a case by case manner, provide arbitration in disputes, dispense with justice to deserving parties, compensate for economic losses and punish offenders/aggressors. Orchestrated violence of this type is beyond preachments and Western inspired modalities in tackling! The fact that insecurity has spread widely in the country is no excuse to the state government to do any less.

While reacting to the destruction of farmlands, Plateau State Governor Simon Bako Lalong described it as callous, criminal, inhuman and wicked, the willful destruction of farm crops in some communities in the state by yet to be apprehended criminals.

Describing the development as ugly, he said it is unimaginable that people will go into a farm and mow down flourishing crops that are nearing maturity and expected to be harvested in the coming weeks and months for whatever reason.

From all intent and purposes, it is condemnable; noting that the action is a premeditated act that must be addressed, saying “the recent case of such intentional decimation of farm crops in Kpachudu, Jebbu Miango in Bassa Local Government Area is totally condemnable and unacceptable. From the reports, this is a carefully planned and executed act that is not only meant to provoke crisis, suspicion and instability in the area, but also render the victims poor and hungry. What these criminals fail to understand is that such actions will eventually leave the entire state and the country with food shortages where even the perpetrators will not escape”.

A Woman whose crops were Mowed Down Standing Helpless in the Farm

He directed security agencies to immediately swing into action by conducting a thorough investigation into this terrorist activity with a view to arresting those behind it and prosecuting them. The government working with the security agencies will do everything within its power to unravel those behind this barbaric act and deal with them accordingly.

Without prejudice to the directive to security agencies to investigate the matter and apprehend culprits, the governor has also mandated the Plateau Peace Building Agency to visit the affected areas and ascertain the level of damage, as well as foster dialogue within the communities with a view to ensuring that such incidents are avoided.

The governor also wants community associations, traditional rulers, youth groups and vigilante platforms all over the state to be proactive by providing the security agencies with the intelligence to pre-empt and foil such plans as well as arresting the perpetrators who clearly are on a mission to return Plateau to the era of pain and agony.

While sympathizing with the affected farmers he promised that the government will do its best to ensure that they get justice.

Farm owners at Zawrra (Tagbe) of Miango District woke up on July 10, 2021 to discover all they had on their farm lands had been destroyed. One of the farmers, Bitrus Etsi, who was in a state of shock, said “this is my only source of livelihood from which I feed my wife and eight children, I am left helpless. We need help”. So also was Musa Akwa who called on the government to tackle insecurity ravaging the land and pleaded with well meaning individuals to come to their rescue to cushion the imminent hunger.

Clearly, according to those who spoke, this is an indication that their aim is to make farmers desert their farmlands so that they can freely graze. They asked as Mr. Jonathan Ishaku: ‘What’s herder-farmer crisis in this premeditated act of terrorism and economic warfare?’

Describing the act as wicked, Chairman of Miango Youth Development Association, Nuhu Yakubu Chayi in a statement said “No one can be established through wickedness, but the righteous cannot be uprooted”.

Meanwhile, the Middle Belt Forum (MBF) also joined in expressing concern with the massive destruction of farmlands by suspected Fulani herdsmen.

It said the farmlands were destroyed on July 9, 2021 in Zawrra Village of Tagbe in Miango District of Bassa Local Government Area (LGA) of Plateau State. Other villages include: Arikwerishe, Anchetahu, Akunbraishua (DTV), Ari Bakwa, Arikwechungu, Gane and Kwachadu.

The National Secretary of the forum, Dr Isuwa Dogo, in a statement, stated that while the MBF is alarmed by the level of deliberate act of wickedness perpetrated against poor farmers, the forum called on relevant arms of government and security agencies to save farmers from further destruction of their farmlands in order to avoid looming hunger.

According to the forum, this coldhearted destruction of crops by these marauding outlaws amidst the raging security challenges facing Nigerians, especially communities in the Middle Belt region, does not only foreshadow food insecurity for the nation, but is capable of engendering communal conflicts.

The forum called on Nigerian farmers not to be discouraged in the face of glaring attempts to frustrate them as the path to national development cannot be attained by a country that cannot feed its citizens.

MBF noted that it is aware that ahead of the 2021 harvest season, various agencies of government had predicted food scarcity in the coming year due to either flooding or drought, among other factors, stressing that the current efforts at destroying farmlands are dangerous for a country suffering from rising inflationary trends caused by non-productive capacity in many sectors of the national economy.

Over 84 farms have been destroyed, cutting across four local governments of the state of Riyom, Jos South, Bassa and Barkin Ladi.

While addressing the State Interreligious Council before the commencement of the Council’s emergency meeting, held in Jos, Governor Simon Lalong who was represented by the Secretary to the State Government, Prof. Danladi Atu said, “Based on security reports and reports of various agencies of government, and Non-Governmental Organizations, as well as reports obtained from informal sectors of security architecture; I wish to highlight that within the period under review, basically June and July, the major security threat relates to agro-pastoralists conflict, which we commonly refer to as farmer/herder conflict.

“In June it was just two local governments, now in July, it has gotten to four local governments, namely; Bassa, Jos South, Riyom and Barkin Ladi. Now the trend is slightly going to continue to spread in view of the fact that we are within the raining season, where farmers are actively involved in their farms”, he decried.

According to him, “This issue was brought to the fore of government in the second Security Council of the year in February, on the need to embark on non-chaotic approaches to sensitize farmers as well as pastoralists on the need to adhere strictly to the law of crop in a difficult situation now with their families.

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