At least 6,000 local farmers depart their homes every day to their farms outside Maiduguri, the Borno state capital, in northeastern Nigeria, security personnel say. But this is taking place amid threats to their safety.
Locals around the Jere and Mafa Local Government Areas of the state have reported frequent cases of farmers being attacked or abducted by persons believed to be members of the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP).
Bukar Karimi, a farmer and an internally displaced person (IDP) from Mafa, has lost count of times his colleagues had to pay huge amounts of money before they were released. The latest incident, which happened yesterday, Aug. 17, is still fresh in his mind.
“Six farmers got missing after they went to their farm at Bulagarji,” he said.
Bulagarji is a village that is a few kilometres away from the town of Mafa. The attack on the farmers occurred on the day officials said they had screened and issued a right of passage to “over 6,000 farmers comprising males, females and youngsters to go out to their farmlands”.
“It was a remarkable sight every morning in Maiduguri to behold a sea of humans filing out in long queues along the recently opened Maiduguri-Damboa road,” said Sainna Buba, the Commissioner of Youth, Sports and Poverty Alleviation, who chairs the committee monitoring the return to farmlands.
“We have no other option than to jump into the bushes to cultivate our food, lest our family starve,” Ibrahim Mohammed, a local farmer, told HumAngle.
He said that each time farmers were abducted from their farmlands, their relatives had to contribute as much as ₦200,000 ($475) before they were released. Others who went missing have not been sighted still.
The Bulagarji incident is believed to be another ransom-induced abduction by ISWAP, even as some relatives have not been contacted for ransom.
“They have demanded ₦5 million ($11,900) to release my two children,” said an old man whose identity is being concealed for his security.
HumAngle learnt that the abductors usually reduce the ransom to a few thousand naira because their targets are peasant farmers.
“Sometimes they would demand cooked or fried food in exchange for the release of kidnapped persons,” Karimi said.
“Last week, they asked a family to take a whole 50 kilograms sack full of chinchin (a local flour fried snack) before they released a farmer they had abducted along the way to Mafa.”
But these waves of abduction have not deterred the farmers from going to the bush.
“Daily, thousands of farmers still troop out to farm around Maiduguri regardless of the incidents because of the joint efforts of the state government, military, Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF), vigilantes, and hunters,” said Abba Modu, a CJTF official.
“We usually spend hours to screen and issue them pass tags before we let them go out into the bush to cultivate their farms. We also provide protection for them, but the number of personnel can hardly control the distance some of them would go into the bush; that’s why they are being attacked and killed.”
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