Findings by Daily Trust Saturday in Taraba, Benue and Kaduna states have revealed that some security agents deployed to conflict-ridden communities to maintain law and order between farmers and herders engage in unprofessional conducts. Residents of the affected areas alleged that instead of restoring peace, these security agents exacerbate the crisis through intimidation and extortion.
The lush green vegetation that colours the plains of Benue State gives a sense of calmness and reassurance of peace to any visitor passing through the state, known as the Food Basket of the Nation. Benue is blessed with an abundance of natural resources and agricultural potential, just like Taraba State, which lies at its west. Equally endowed with green vegetations, hills and mountains with valleys that stretch as far as the naked eye can see, Taraba State also boasts of agricultural prowess and provides a home for both peasant and commercial farmers, as well as pastoralists.
The riverine hinterlands of these two states are similar to those in southern Kaduna, where agriculture remains a crucial activity. These states and other parts of northern Nigeria are endowed with arable land resources that are a delight to every agrarian society.
However, a long-standing conflict between farmers and pastoralists over land use has taken a dangerous dimension in the last two decades. This has plunged several parts of the region into violent crises that have resulted in displacements and loss of lives and livelihood.
Conflict and security experts say these clashes, which often take religious and ethnic dimensions, had existed for centuries but are now more evident as a result of growing population and climate change, which puts more pressure on arable land.
With traditional means of settling these disputes breaking down to almost non-existent capacity, the Nigerian government deployed security forces, mainly, the military to many parts of the North, to ensure that law and order is restored while farmers and herders work together to build peace in their communities.
However, in this investigation, it was alleged that some security agents deployed to communities to restore peace worsen the situation through intimidation, extortion and subverting justice. Our reporter who visited Taraba, Benue and Kaduna states report a feeling of glum, hopelessness and disappointment among farmers and herders.
How security personnel extort us – Benue herders, farmers
The Wadata neighbourhood of Makurdi, the Benue State capital, is regarded as one of the largest multilingual communities in the state. It hosts one of Makurdi’s major markets. And it is where Ali Ibrahim, a Fulani pastoralist calls home.
In June 2023 when Daily Trust Saturday visited Makurdi, Ibrahim narrated how his 16-year-old son, Isiyaka, was arrested in April and allegedly killed by soldiers. The 48-year-old man said a soldier he identified as Sergeant Shehu Adaka had called to inform him that his son had been arrested and detained for grazing close to a military-restricted area in Adaka, Makurdi Local Government Area. He said the soldier had demanded money for his son’s release.
“I transferred N100,000 to them and they promised to release my son that evening. I waited but did not see him. Instead, his corpse was found three days later in a bush,” he alleged.
The pastoralist said it was the second time Isiyaka was arrested and detained, as a month before then, some soldiers had detained him when he unknowingly entered a military-restricted area in the same Adaka. He added, “The second time he was only grazing close to the area and they arrested and killed him.”
Fighting back tears, Ali Ibrahim said it had become a routine for pastoralists to pay money to soldiers on weekly Saturday markets. He alleged that the soldiers frequently sent them account numbers to credit.”
Like Ibrahim, Muazu Abubakar and Lawal Shehu, two Fulani men residing at Wadata, corroborated the story that some military men deployed to Makurdi extorted money from them on market days. Abubakar and Shehu shared their ordeal with our correspondent at the Benue office of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN).
The herders presented the phone number of the alleged military personnel who collect what they referred to as “returns.”
Daily Trust Saturday ran a name search of the alleged military personnel through Truecaller and the name “Sgt Shehu Oc. Adaka” came up.
Investigations revealed that Sgt Shehu Oc. Adaka is a soldier attached to Operation Whirl Stroke, which was deployed to Benue State in 2018. The mandate of the military team was to restore law and order and ensure that the people affected by insecurity in the state go about their lawful duties without fear of molestation.
Our correspondent reached out to Sgt Adaka via a call, but he claimed that he had been on treatment following an accident since August 2022.
Nevertheless, a high military source revealed that Sergeant Adaka is a member of Operation Whirl Stroke stationed around Adaka community. He said there have been a series of extortion complaint against the sergeant, which contributed to his transfer from Adaka in June.
Our reporter reached out to the public relations officer of Operation Whirl Stroke, Flight Lieutenant Oquoh David, who confirmed the identity of Sgt Shehu Oc. Adaka as their personnel. He, however, expressed doubt that any of their men would be involved in extortion, saying, “I don’t think anything like that happened.”
But like Ali Ibrahim, Muazu Abubakar and Lawal Shehu, several other herders said some military personnel in Benue State harassed and extorted money from them despite the position of Operation Whirl Stroke.
Mamman Ahmed, a Fulani pastoralist and one-time MACBAN chairman in Tarka Local Government Area of the state, said he once lived in Tumunyi, Guma Local Government Area but was forced to relocate to Tunga in Awe Local Government Area of Nasarawa State.
Guma Local Government Area of Benue, which shares boundary with Makurdi, has come under numerous attacks that have led to fatalities and large-scale displacements due to instability exacerbated by the farmer-herders’ crisis in the state.
Ahmed described extortion by alleged military personnel as widespread and alarming, saying he was equally given a bank account details to transfer money. He, however, could not provide the account details as he said his phone recently got damaged. But he showed several Point of Sale (POS) tellers to prove that he made transfers to an alleged military personnel. He, however, said military extortion had reduced since the election of Hyacinth Alia as the governor of the state.
Daily Trust Saturday reports that the first teller showed the sum of N100,000 carrying a recipient’s name as Shaagee, while the other names had faded. He presented another teller which showed that he transferred the sum of N10,000 to the same recipient on a different date. Other tellers showed that he had transferred the sum of N10,000 to one Solomon although the other name on the teller had faded. Two other tellers showed that the sum of N40,000 and N200,000 had equally been transferred at intervals.
Although the former MACBAN chairman insisted that the transfers were made to soldiers, Daily Trust Saturday could not independently authenticate this as the POS receipts had no account numbers and only single names appeared visible on receipts.
Having escaped from Benue State, Ardo Saja Abdullahi, one of the Fulani leaders now living in Awe Local Government Area of Nasarawa State, provided our reporter with a bank account number he alleged belonged to military personnel that extorted money from pastoralists.
Daily Trust Saturday carried out a search on the Access Bank account number through a bank application and the name, Anas Isah came up. When our reporter contacted the public relations officer of Operation Whirl Stroke to verify the identity of Anas Isah, he did not respond. A WhatsApp message was sent to him to confirm the identity but he read it and did not respond.
As the allegation of extortion continues to breed hostility between pastoralists and security agents saddled with the responsibility of protecting lives and property in the areas, the MACBAN in Benue State said it had lodged several complaints, even at army headquarters in Abuja without any tangible result.
The secretary of MACBAN in the state, Ibrahim Galma, described the security intervention in some areas as aiding criminality instead of addressing it.
When our reporter contacted the spokesperson of the Nigerian Army, Brigadier-General Onyema Nwachukwu on these allegations he replied, “The Nigerian Army has no place for extortion or extortionists in its ranks. Any personnel caught indulging in such illicit act will face severe disciplinary action. However, you need to be specific on the location where you claim that soldiers are engaging in such act to enable the appropriate formation or unit address the situation.”
Nevertheless, our reporter made several requests for a physical meeting so as to present the case but the army spokesperson did not respond. Details of the case involving Sgt Adaka, Anas Isah and other allegations, as well as the specific locations, were forwarded to Nwachukwu but there was no response.
Farmers not left out
Pastoralists are not the only ones accusing soldiers of extortion. Farmers in Benue State also claim that they are victims of some soldiers who blackmail them into paying large sums of money.
In Adaka and surrounded communities of Benue, there have been reported attacks, forcing residents to flee. Traversing through the terrain at 6am in June, our reporter came across women strapped with babies to their backs, as well as young men and the elderly in a brisk walk to check on their farms.
Daily Trust Saturday gathered that only the brave among residents would take the risk of visiting their farmlands at down and leave before dusk.
It was learnt that this situation has forced a number of residents to make an occupational change from farming to log bucking and firewood sale.
Joshua Lorvihi, a resident of Adaka, said he was one of those forced to venture into log bucking and selling. “This is because herders destroyed our farms,” he said.
Lorvihi may have escaped the hooves of the cattle on his farmland but he said he now faced a new challenge as a buck-logger.
“I went to the bush with my boys to cut wood but left them there. On their way back, the vehicle broke down and it took till evening to fix it. When they reached the main road, they were blocked by soldiers, who forced them to pay N11,000 before they were released,” he said.
The community head of Msambe in Adaka, Chief Sylvester Wilson, supported Lorvihi’s testimony, saying instances of such extortions had taken place in his presence multiple times.
Sitting next to an uncompleted structure he now regards as home, Wilson, who fled Msambe, lamented that the presence of military personnel in the area had not been helpful.
“I witnessed it more than three times. Many of our youths are now abandoning farming for log bucking due to insecurity,” Chief Sylvester Wilson said, referring to alleged acts of extortion by soldiers.
In Taraba, farmers, herders accuse police of compromising standard
With its endowed green vegetation that provides a conducive environment for crop and livestock farming, Taraba State, like Benue, has faced incessant disagreements between herders and farmers over land control, which often leads to killings and displacements.
With Benue bordering Taraba to the east, the influx of migrant herders and encroachment of grazing routes by farmers and the government have heightened unrest.
Both farmers and herders point accusing fingers at the men of the Nigeria Police Force for extortion and using traditional mechanism of settling disputes for their “selfish benefits.”
Speaking from his Jalingo residence, Alhaji Umaru Soja, Sarkin Fulani Mayoranewo in Ardo Kola Local Government Area, said they were often extorted by the police on the guise of paying for crops damaged by their animals.
“You don’t just go to the police station and pay N5,000 or N10,000; if you paid N50,000 you have received subsidy,” he said in Hausa, adding, “You will be made to bear the cost of fueling the police van, as well as bail. You will be forced to pay money, whether it is confirmed that there was damage to the farm or not. Once you are reported you must pay,” he said.
Also, many farmers alleged that a large chunk of the money paid by herders to compensate owners of a destroyed farmland does not often get to them.
A commercial farmer in Jalingo, Naboki Abraham, claimed that herders damaged his beans farm at the flowering stage in 2022 and despite reporting the case to the police, he was never compensated as the police implored him to let go.
“Later, I discovered that they (police) collected money from the herder but never compensated me,” he alleged.
In a related development, a former general manager of the Taraba State Broadcasting Service and the current vice chairman of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN) in the state, Theophilus Anderyaka, said the union had received many reports from farmers that compensations paid by herders in cases of destroyed farmlands were never paid to them.
Salmanu Jason, the state chairman of Vegetable Farmers Association, said there were cases where both farmers and herders were exploited by alleged policemen when cases of farm destruction were reported.
“It is futile to report to the police because both the farmer and the herder will be exploited,” he said.
Responding to these allegations, the police public relations officer in Taraba State, Usman Abdullahi, said the command had not received any allegation of extortion on any police officer. He said the command was ready to deal with any policeman found guilty of collecting money to compromise police standards.
Police accused of setting criminals free in Kaduna
The struggle for land resources between farmers and herders has spread to parts of southern Kaduna, leading to several deaths despite numerous interventions of community leaders and security agents.
Emmanuel Ayuba, a resident of Ikulu community in Zangon Kataf Local Government Area, accused the police of compromising standard and releasing the herder who shot his son in 2022.
Ayuba narrated that the incident happened on October 11, 2022 when his 27-year-old son, Marshal Emmanuel was working on his farmland.
“I took the boy to Godiya Clinic in Kamuru but we were denied treatment for failure to bring police report. We contacted the police division in Zonkwa, but the DPO said they didn’t have the fuel to come over.
“We took the boy to the General Hospital at Zonkwa but he was later referred to the University of Jos Teaching Hospital (JUTH) in Plateau State,” he said.
Ayuba acknowledged that he received the sum of N300,000 from the herder’s father for treatment but later had to revert to traditional care because the money was not enough for the treatment.
However, in a phone conversation with this reporter, Nabiki Mohammed, whose son, Bawa, shot at Marshal in 2022, said he sold 10 cows in other to settle the matter with the police.
“I spent over a million naira,” he said in Hausa.
Mohammed acknowledged the involvement of the Zonkwa Divisional Police Officer (DPO), Adeforiti Adeleken saying, “He and his boys collected the money.”
Several calls to Adeleken did not connect as his number was unreachable. The acting police relations officer, Kaduna State command, ASP Mansir Hassan, assured that the command would launch an investigation into the matter. He, however, urged those with complaints against any police officer to make it official.
Why farmers/herders clashes persist
An Associate Professor of Diplomatic History and Director of the Centre for Peace and Development Studies, Benue State University, Dr Chris Ogu, blamed the incessant crises between herders and farmers on climate change.
“In the past, we had herders that came intermittently and seasonally for grazing of their cattle, especially during the dry season when the greener pasture is no longer tenable in the far northern part of the country.
“Now, with climate change, there are other geographical reconfigurations. There is a desert encroachment that has affected the annual availability of greener pastures in the northern part of the country,” he said.
He said the non-availability of greener pastures has compelled herders to settle around the Benue valley.
To end persistent clashes, the president of the Society for Peace Studies and Practice, Dr Nathaniel Awuapila, said the government must focus on policies that address the root causes of the insecurity, not as political or religious problems.
Awuapila, who is also the founder of the Civil Organisations Research Advocacy and Funding Initiative Development (CORAFID), a non-governmental organisation based in Benue State, said involving the military often escalated crises in the North Central and other parts of the North, noting that it is a reactive approach.
“In every community the military is deployed you will have a ripple effect – homes burned, people dead and a sense of insecurity is heightening,” he said.
He said that to address the issues, the government must look at policies that address the root cause of the crises.
“The issues were addressed as political and religious problems. And we have heard people investing in an initiative to investigate the religious sources of this problem. These are all noble initiatives. Rather than treat them as a solution by themselves, these actors needed to have come together to address these as elements, manifestation of the big problem,” he added.
This investigation was sponsored by Daily Trust Foundation with support from MacArthur Foundation.