Farmers/Fulani Herdsmen Clash: Kwara on precipice of peril
His words were saturated and enveloped in his pains and agony. The tone of his voice fluctuated in tandem with his emotions as he relayed his plight. There was pin drop silence as everyone present shook heads in pity to the tale of the commercial farmer who has overtime had running battle with herdsmen.
That was the atmosphere when ex-Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Samuel Olajide Afolayan (retd), spoke on his pain and frustration as a farmer.
Afolayan owns a large expanse of farm in Osi, Ekiti Local Government Area of Kwara State, a dream of any committed and dedicated farmer anywhere in the world. I was fascinated years back when I had the rare opportunity of visiting his farm. I was in the entourage of the former deputy governor of Kwara state, Chief Joel Ogundeji. It was something out of this world; one of its kind in the state and I couldnít stop talking about the farm for a very long time.
I envied the retired military officer for his success story as a farmer. While his ilk invested in other businesses except agriculture owing to attendant challenges and the rigours of farming activities, he decided to till the land to make a living and contribute his quota to economic development of his hometown, state and the country at large.
So, his story of farm invasion by cattle of Fulani herdsmen is pathetic. The ex-military boss said he has lost over N100m of his investment to grazing by cows and bush burning by the herdsmen. It is disheartening that a man of his calibre who has decided to embrace agriculture should be frustrated by the menace.
He disclosed this while addressing a press conference at the maiden congress of the Ibadan Province of the African Church held in Osi on Friday.
His tale of woes gives insight into the plight of farmers, particularly farmers in the state lately.
This revelation again throws up the looming danger of farmers/Fulani herdsmen clash in the state. Afolayan sounded a note of warning that the state and the country is on the precipice of peril, if this trend continued unchecked.
Although the problem did not start today, but the dimension it is assuming presently, calls for concern and proactive action to nip it in the bud.
Still fresh in our memories is the killing of four persons in a clash that erupted between people of Yashikira community in Baruten Local Government Area of Kwara State and suspected herdsmen. It was alleged that the three herders were killed in retaliation to the killing of a farmer. The man, whose corpse was found in his farm, had earlier reportedly complained of incessant grazing of cattle on his farm. It was gathered that when the farmer confronted the herdsmen in his farm, they pounced on him, slaughtered him and dumped his body in the farm. Consequently, some angry youths in the area mobilised themselves and traced the herders to the bush and reportedly killed three of them.
There is also the pathetic case of 25-year-old Olaide Yahya, who had his hand severed by a Fulani hetdsmen few weeks ago. He was attacked on his farm located at Oke-Odo in Kaiama Local Government Area of the state, for challenging encroachment by cattle that ate his produce.
The incessant clashes between farmers and herdsmen has no doubt culminated in the loss of investment on both sides and lives overtime.
With this development, farming activities have come under threat owing to the menace of Fulani herdsmen, which has caused many to abandon farming. Consequently, food scarcity is imminent in the state. This ordinarily has negative impact on the economy as agriculture has become focus for diversification particularly at a time when the country is faced with economic recession.
According to Afolayan, "Farmers have made up their minds that even if government offer them loan, they will not accept it because there is no point taking the loan and planting crop, only for cows to destroy it and there is no adequate compensation. Their lives are not safe even on their farms."
From the foregoing, there is need for proactive actions to end the incessant farmers and herdsmen clashes in the state as it is a threat to the peaceful co-existence of citizens. There is need for coherent policy to tackle the endemic problem which has escalated in many parts of the country.
The traditional institutions too have a role to play in conflict resolution between herdsmen and farmers.
While commending efforts of the state government at resolving impasse between the farmers and herders, such as setting up peace and security committees in local governments more needs to be done to put to finally rest the menace. The present administration must fashion out peaceful means to end the crisis.
A cattle feed business is one area the government can look into to support a well established ranching programme. This is because it will prevent animals invading farms in search of what to eat.
More importantly, there is need for herdsmen to be oriented on how to handle conflicts. Such as reporting any case of stolen cattle to the police and not taking laws into their hands. Then, they need to be educated to appreciate and value human life and right of everyone to life and living. As aptly pointed out by the former naval chief " One thing that is peculiar to them (Fulani hedsmen) is that there is nothing that is important to them like their cattle not even their own families.
However, one business must not interfere with another business. The herdsmen have their investment in their cattle while the farmers have theirs in produce. Therefore, in the interest of the economic development of the state and sustenance of the existing peace, the state government must be ready to tackle headlong menace. Long live Kwara.