It used to be one of the most lucrative ventures in the state, engaging thousands of youths, together with its value chain. But that is no longer the case as the present insecurity situation, especially the incessant kidnapping of operators, has started to take its toll on the Kwara catfish industry.
For the fear of being kidnapped, coupled with the harrowing experiences some have had in the dens of the abductors, and the near impossibility to look for ransom, many farmers have abandoned their ponds, while others have drastically limited visitation.
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In the interim, some employ indigenes of the community where their farms are located to work for them on an agreed fee.
It was gathered that a N20m ransom was allegedly sourced through various loan arrangements to secure the release of a deputy comptroller of customs, Mohammed Zarma, who was abducted recently.
Already, many farmers have started warning of the possible negative impact of the present situation, including a drastic reduction in the production of catfish in the state, which will lead to scarcity.
It was gathered that towards the end of last year, several cases of kidnap were recorded, which left the victims with serious injuries, even after payment of ransoms. These were aside other several pockets of incidents where the victims suffered several machete wounds while in the farm, going or retuning from their ponds.
Speaking on the issue, one of the farmers who preferred not to be named, said that before the incident of the retired customs boss, the last case witnessed in the fish farming community in Egbejila, Asa Local Government of Kwara State, prompted them to engage the services of some vigilante men.
“The victim of the last attempt was left with a serious head injury. So we engaged the services of vigilantes, but because of the issue of lack of commitment to their remuneration and funds for bullets and maintenance of their dane guns by some of our members, that arrangement was short-lived,” he said.
Speaking on the kidnap of the former customs boss, a resident of the local government said the attackers invaded the farm with dangerous weapons, such as Ak47.
“They trekked to the farm and took the man away by foot through the bush that links to Ogele, Pampo and Arowosaye villages,” he said.
Mr Osagiede (pseudonym), told our correspondent that “the most frightening part of the whole scenario is that the kidnappers drew a list of those to be kidnapped subsequently. Ten farmers are on the list.
“We got to know of this during the process of negotiation for the ransom of the retired customs boss. It was shocking, surprising and frightening. This suggests that either some of our members are willing collaborators or some of the people in the community are using it as business.
“Both way, those of us who are real farmers are seriously under threat.
“Those whose names were allegedly on the list and other farmers are very apprehensive now. We later discovered that they had stayed in the bush for days, surveying the environment at a place they used as their temporary base before they kidnapped Mr Zarma,” he also said.
Catfish farmers who spoke with Daily Trust on Sunday on the issue said the latest development led to many of farmers refusing to go to their farms.
One of the farmers in Egbejila, Mr Abdulrahman said, “The latest incident has put many of them in great fear, especially because of the remoteness and porosity of the location of the farms, which are at the outskirts because of access to fresh water from Asa River.
He said, “The retired custom boss was one of the biggest farmers in the community whose farm is one of the most secured. To us now, if he could be so kidnapped, it means we are no longer safe.
“For now, going to farm has become one of the most difficult things, for fear of being abducted.”
“I have employed someone to look after my farm until my fish are harvested. But that is going to be my last harvest as I have made up my mind to quite because of the worsening security situation in the area.”
Another fish farmer at Egbejila, Abu Ali, said
the increasing attacks and abduction of farmers in the area called for serious concern.
“Many of our colleagues no longer come to the farm for fear of the unknown, which has seriously affected fish production and our economies.
“We thought our modest efforts to curb the situation would reduce the menace in our community, but it is worsening. And from the look of things, activities of the kidnapers will cripple the catfish business in Kwara State.
“Before now, we had over 500 fishponds scattered across many phases after the influx of more people to the business, but now, the figure has drastically reduced, which has seriously affected the over 20 tons we used to produce daily to between 10 and 15,” he said.
Speaking on the issue, the chairman of Fish Farmers Association of Nigeria, Kwara State chapter, Sulyman Buhari, called on the government to come to their rescue before the issue gets out of hand.
He said, “Many of the farmers have abandoned their facilities. Our workers are also being attacked.
“This is a very big challenge that has dampened the interest of farmers. Fish farms are mostly located in the outskirts of the town as we have in Egbejila here, where security is a major issue. Now, many of us are afraid to go to farms, yet this is a business that you have to visit the farms at least twice daily to feed the fish. You can see our dilemma.
“The government should consider legalising bearing of arms by fish farmers for self-defence. The kidnapers come with sophisticated weapons and most times in numbers to meet us because we are working in isolated areas.
“Before this spate of insecurity started, many farmers had contended with the astronomic increase in the prices of fish feeds and other farming implements. We now face incessant abductions. And they demand up to N10million in some cases. How much are we using for the business, such that someone would be forced to pay such amount as ransom?
“In Kwara now, fish production is reducing on a daily basis as farmers are quitting the business, and the few that are trying to continue are afraid to go to farm.”