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4.4m displaced as climate change fuelled farmer-herder crisis traumatises Benue, Nasarawa women

Climate change has aggravated the lingering herder-farmer crisis with attendant traumatic impacts on victims in Benue and Nasarawa states, Daily Trust on Sunday reports. As…

Climate change has aggravated the lingering herder-farmer crisis with attendant traumatic impacts on victims in Benue and Nasarawa states, Daily Trust on Sunday reports.

As at 2009, no fewer than 5,000 persons suffered internal displacement in Nigeria, according to the Global Internal Displacement data compiled by Dataphyte, a media, research and data analytics organisation with the mission to deploy data tools and technology for socio-economic development of Nigeria.

Between 2009 and 2021, however, the official figures of internally displaced persons had ballooned, with the attendant blood and tears on account of the perennial clashes between farmers and nomadic herdsmen who graze their animals on the farmers’ lands.

 

Years 2014 and 2015 showed marked increment in the number of victims of conflict internal displacements, with a record 975,000 and 737,000 respectively. 

By 2021, which was a period of 12 years from the available records, the total number of persons displaced as a result of internal conflict was 4,435,000, a whopping 88,600 per cent rise in slightly over a decade. 

Mwuese Nyitamen, 35, and her family are casualties of the clashes. The native of Tse Akina, Mbadwen in  Guma Local Government Area of Benue State, hates to remember the day her husband and son were abducted by herdsmen last year while working on their farm. Her 13- year-old son’s body was later found and buried, but her husband remains missing till date.  

She admits that since the incident occurred, she has been experiencing palpitations and having insomnia. She also says she experiences chest pain, and life has generally been tough for her as she has spent more than a year in Ichwa, Tse-Yandev displaced persons camp in Makurdi. 

Nyitamen, like many other women in the area, have been widowed by the herders-farmers crisis, which has persisted for the past decade in the North Central states of Benue, Nasarawa, Plateau, Kogi and southern Kaduna, as well as Taraba. 

Nigeria has been beset by numerous security threats, including the Boko Haram insurgency in the North East, the intractable militancy in the Niger Delta, unabated violent conflicts between herders and farming communities stretching from the Middle Belt southward, and pro-self-rule Biafra bloody agitation in the South East region.  

The palpable insecurity has exacerbated women’s vulnerability as thousands of farming communities are displaced from their original habitations, threatening food security and leaving many people food insecure, especially women and children.

Particularly, the herders-farmers violence has killed many women in Benue and Nasarawa states, while leaving many others widowed and in traumatised state. 

Indeed, according to the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), 19million children were internally displaced by conflict and violence in 2019 alone, stating that “it is highest number ever.”

The United Nations (UN) agency added that in the North East, where Adamawa and Taraba states belong, there are currently 1.9 million people displaced from their homes.

 

Over 100 women killed in my ward – Widower 

A widower, Uke Torhemba from Tyozenda in Uvir council ward of Guma, said he lost two of his wives to the violence, adding that over 100 women had been killed in his council ward alone. 

He said, “I had three wives, but the Fulani herders who attacked me on my farm killed my first and second wives. In my community, without exaggerations, we have lost at least 100 women to the herders’ attacks. If you go to Uvir ward where I come from, you won’t see anybody because they have all deserted the area due to attacks.”

Also, at least 10 women have been killed by herders in Keana Local Government of Nasarawa State since August 2022. A resident of Targema village, Kwara ward of the local government council, Emmanuel Gwaza, said he knew three of the women killed. He gave their names as Mary Apewegh, Rose Gbawuan and Kuzenda Igba.

According to him, when armed herders meet women on farms, they rape and cut them with machetes and allow them to go and tell their men that they (herders) are in charge. 

Most of the villages where the women were killed were deserted, as mud huts were seen crumbling and bushes overgrowing the small homesteads of the farmers, who have now taken refuge in a primary school at Kadarko town, while some are squatting with relatives.

Troubling statistics

Statistics obtained from the Benue State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) showed that as at September 2021, displaced persons from Benue were 1,597,000 million, with 412,140 women.

Also, the secretary-general of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), Benue State chapter, Alhaji Ibrahim Galma, said over 5,000 Fulani women had been displaced in Benue , with as many as 200 of them widowed.

Galma said Fulani women who traditionally depend on cow milk (nono) business had been displaced, and since they didn’t have any camp in Benue, they had been evacuated to neighbouring states. 

He said, “The milkmaids have lost their economic lifeline in Benue and we are left with no option but to look for aid for them from non-governmental organisations that have come to the state for intervention. And many of them have lost their husbands in Makurdi, Gwer-West, Guma, Logo, Kwande and Katsina-Ala. From 200 to 300 Fulani women have lost their husbands. It is a serious problem.”  

The executive secretary of the SEMA in Benue State, Mr Emmanuel Shior, said the overall figures of displaced persons had gone up in the past one year. He said that due to fresh and persistent attacks, the number had reached 2.6million in Benue alone.  

Tracy Ogbonna, the monitoring and evaluation manager, Women Environmental Programme (WEP), said conflict had affected women’s income, stability, output and productivity in their respective communities, as well as their social and economic life.  

“We also know that women menstruate, and when they are displaced they no longer have things like sanitary pads; and most times they have to endure menstrual flows for days without water to wash. There’s no proper menstrual management,” she said.

Rampant rape incidents 

She said rape was also rampant during crisis of this nature and women are raped while fleeing, or they negotiate sex for food. “Also, the psychosocial effect of losing their loved ones traumatises them,” she added.

Aheem  Msueam, 30, from Mbadwem in Mbalagh ward of Guma Local Government, one of the epicentres of the herders-farmers violence, said she lost her husband to herdsmen while she was heavily pregnant for her third set of twins, which were delivered in May. Since then, she has continued to experience sudden heartbeats, such that she loses concentration at times and has lost appetite. It becomes severe when the children would cry for food and the thought of her husband flashes through her mind.  

“If he were alive he would support me. So, the thought of him always makes me weep,” she said. 

She lamented that there is hunger in the Ichwa, Tse-Yandev camp, where she is taking refuge; and she doesn’t eat well enough to generate breast milk for her twin baby boys. 

She is a mother-of-six – three set of twins, one deceased, bringing the remaining number to five.

Climate change at the heart of crisis 

The monitoring and evaluation manager of WEP said climate change is at the heart of the crisis, pointing out that natural resources have shrunk due to the impact of extreme weather patterns in the face of population increase, thereby triggering migration of herders from the north to the Benue valley.

Ogbonna said, “The traditional way we used to do things must change. Most especially because it has to do with resources and it has to do with sustainability. Issues of climate change and conflicts in the northeast and the northwest have caused migration. Historically, herders migrate to where there are greener pastures to graze their cattle and for this problem to be solved, the government must look into the issue of climate change and the herders themselves must examine the option of ranching because animals don’t know the difference between green grass and planted crops. They would graze on the grass and stray into farmlands and graze on the planted crops which is what triggers the conflict. The farmer is trying to protect his farm in order to have food security and also have income, the herder is also looking at having income from his cattle. For us to come to a meeting point where these issues will no longer incite violence, is for the prohibition of open grazing. Studies have shown that when you ranch animals, they do better. You get better milk from them and the beef is also of better quality.

“We know that climate change is affecting Nigeria a lot, especially when it comes to desertification. The weather patterns are not the same, rainfall patterns are not the same and these are impacting on the environment generally. Desert encroachment is a high-risk challenge because with people like the herders who face desertification and whose livelihood depend on grazing cattle on green grass, they need to migrate where they can find the grass to graze their cattle and make their living.” 

Gender gap in food security 

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the gender gap in food insecurity – which had grown in 2020 under the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic—widened even further in 2021, driven largely by the widening differences in Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as in Asia. In 2021, the gap reached 4.3 percentage points, with 31.9 percent of women in the world being moderately or severely food insecure, compared to 27.6 percent of men.

For countries like Nigeria facing multiple security threats which have far reaching implications for food security, achieving the SDG 2 target of ending hunger seems daunting. 

Udeorun Agena is a 67-year-old farmer who has been displaced by the farmers-herders crisis in Saghev village, near Naka, Gwer West Local Government of Benue State.

She said she fled from her ancestral home in March 2022 when armed herders sacked her village and set on fire her barns of food comprising yam, maize and guinea corn.

She said over 1,000 tubers of yam, three bags of guinea corn and two bags of maize that she harvested and kept in the barns were razed by the herders, while her 10 goats and chickens were plundered.

“Food was always in abundance, but now, it is difficult,” she lamented.

She said her yam farm was large, about four hectares; but now she has just a small portion behind her abandoned compound, which she cultivated early July when she returned from Naka town where she had taken refuge since March.

Samson Agena, her only son, said they gather firewood and he pushes to Naka town, a seven kilometer distance, to sell, which they use to buy food.

For Hajara Alhaji Doka, a mother of 10 and a widow, life has not been easy for her since the crisis broke out and she lost her husband. She said they lost their cattle to the crisis and survival has been tough.

“In order to look for food that the children will eat, we buy powdered milk for N4,000 to ferment it into Nono and sell. We suffer a lot hawking this Nono to get food for the children,” she said.

Zainab Adamu, another Fulani widow left stranded in Makurdi, echoed the same sentiments, saying taking care of the children without cattle and a husband was a tough task. 

A mother-of-seven, Mbahunan Iiume at Tyolaha village, on the Makurdi-Naka Road, said she hasn’t lost anybody in the conflict but she has lost her house and her farms. She was seen scavenging for cassava in a farmland she abandoned and fled when the herders visited her community with violence.

She said she abandoned her over two-hectare yam farm which the herders used to feed their cattle, as well as her guinea corn and cassava farms.

Gwaza, who is a graduate of Geography from the Benue State University, Makurdi, said his farm of about 15 hectares has been destroyed by the herders at Targema village in Nasarawa state.

“I have lost my maize, guinea corn and sesame farm to the herders who invade farms and graze their cattle on every crop they see. I was expecting that I would harvest 100 bags of maize and at least 30 bags of guinea corn but now I am left with nothing.

“The biggest challenge for me is how to feed my family because food is very expensive now,” he said.

The Nasarawa State Chairman of MACBAN, Alhaji Bala Muhammad Dabo, who spoke in Hausa, said the association is working hard to ensure peace between herders and farmers reigns in the state.

He admitted that he heard reports of farmland encroachment but couldn’t establish where exactly it happened.

He said: “Of course information has reached me that some cattle who were said to have been chased by soldiers from Makurdi destroyed a farm. They intruded through that axis.

“Though, I couldn’t establish as to who were the owners of the cows, there is strong evidence that cows had destroyed farmlands.

“We’ve already told Fulani traditional rulers (ardos) from the affected areas that they should hasten to withdraw herders operating there until the tension is doused for farmers to be able to restore what had been lost on their farmlands.

National hyper-inflationary trend

Nigeria’s inflation has further aggravated the situation, pushing food prices higher and higher beyond the reach of the poor. 

According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), inflation rate peaked in July, recording 18.60 per cent to post its highest figure since March 2021 (18.17 per cent). 

The NBS report which stated that the figure was 0.84 per cent points higher, compared to the rate recorded in June 2021, which is 17.75 per cent, states that the statistics increased due to the prices of bread and cereals, potatoes, yam, and other tubers, meat, fish, oil and fat, and wine.

The NBS added that on a month-on-month basis, headline inflation rate in July 2022 was 1.817 per cent, which was 0.001 per cent higher than the rate recorded in June 2022 (1.816 per cent).

For composite food index, it rose to 20.60 per cent in June 2022 on a year-on-year basis; the rate of changes in average price level declined by 1.23 per cent compared to 21.83 per cent in June 2021.

NBS said the figure was 2.27 per cent points higher compared to the rate recorded in July 2021, which was (17.38 per cent).  

While stating that increases were recorded in all Consumer Price Index (CPI) divisions that yielded the headline index, it said the increase in inflation was caused by an increase in food index.

It said food inflation rose to 22.02 per cent on a year-on-year basis; which was 0.99% higher compared to the rate recorded in July 2021 (21.03 per cent).

“This rise in food inflation was caused by increases in prices of bread and cereals, food products, potatoes, yam and other tubers, meat, fish, oil, and fat.”

However, the NBS in a report released in September, said the headline inflation rate which was a 3.52 per cent points higher compared to the rate recorded in August 2022, also reduced when compared to July 2022 by 0.05 per cent.

It said the increases were caused by rise in prices of bread and cereals, food products like potatoes, yam and other tuber, fish, meat, oil and fat.

It continued that the increase was also due to the, “disruption in the supply of food products increase in import cost due to the persistent currency depreciation and general increase in the cost of production.”  

Meanwhile, it said the decline on month-on-month basis was due to reduction in prices of some food products due to the harvest season and stability in transportation cost due to availability of fuel.

It said food inflation rate was 23.12 per cent on a year-on-year basis; which was 2.82 per cent higher compared to the rate recorded in August 2021 (20.30 per cent). While on a month-on-month basis, the food inflation rate in August was 1.98 per cent, this was a 0.07 per cent decline compared to the rate recorded in July 2022 (2.04%).

“This decline is attributed to reduction in prices of some food items like tubers, garri, local rice and vegetables.

Meanwhile, it stated that on a year-on-year basis, urban inflation rate was 20.95 per cent, a 3.36 per cent higher compared to 17.59 per cent recorded in August 2021.

While rural inflation rate was 3.69per cent higher compared to 16.43% recorded in August 2021. 

Furthermore, Dr. Shior, during a routine monthly briefing of journalists in Makurdi in early September, said (SEMA) needs a minimum of N500 million every month to feed the (IDPs) in the state. 

However, efforts to speak with him for the purpose of this investigation were unsuccessful. He did not pick calls and did not reply to a WhatsApp message sent to him, even when it showed that he has read it.

He noted during the media briefing that the present amount of money used by the state government to feed the displaced was still a far cry from what is needed.

“We need at least N500 million on a monthly basis to feed IDPs. Presently, a truck containing 1,200 bags of 25kg rice is N18 million.

“And several of such trucks are loaded on a monthly basis to convey food items to the IDP camps across the state. So, you can only imagine if the amount is for only rice in one truck,” he said.

Also, the Nasarawa State Emergency Management Agency (NAEMA) could not be reached for data of people killed and displaced in the conflict as its Director General, Barr. Zakari Alumaga, did not pick calls and reply to a text message sent to him. He had promised the state correspondent of this newspaper severally that he would speak with him but he didn’t fulfill the promise. 

When the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor of Nasarawa State was approached to get the DG of NAEMA to provide the data and say what the state government is doing to alleviate the suffering of the IDPs, he said the report was negative and the timing is wrong as it is an election year.

He insisted that there was no such crisis in the state as, according to him, the State Governor, Abdullahi Sule has ended the conflict and so there was no need talking about it again. 

In 2019, the Nigerian Government launched a 10-year National Livestock Transformation Plan as part of measures to curb the herder-farmer violence, but the programme is yet to make impact.  

This report was facilitated by the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ) under its Collaborative Media Engagement for Development, Inclusion and Accountability (CMEDIA) project.