Bukar Umara, 36, is an internally displaced farmer from the Kukawa local government area of Borno state who presently lives and works as a local laundry service provider in a suburb of Maiduguri, the state capital, in Northeast Nigeria.
A few months ago, Bukar and his family lived in Kukawa, where they struggled to eke out a living as farmers in locations controlled by Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) terrorists.
During the last harvest season, things went wrong in Kukawa and Umara, and his family were forced to relocate to Maiduguri.
“I could not meet up with the tax I earlier agreed to pay Boko Haram (referring to ISWAP, a breakaway Boko Haram group) for allowing me to cultivate a piece of land in a part of Kukawa, and we all know that defaulting their tax means grave danger, so I had to run.”
Umara said most of the acclaimed bumper harvests recorded in the last two cropping seasons were not because there was improved security, “but because we agreed to pay to give some percentage of our harvests to the terrorists, who then gave us some guarantee for our safety.”
Umara, who also volunteered as a local vigilante while in Kukawa, disagreed with the narratives that the military counterinsurgency activity in the deep field areas provided some safety for farmers to cultivate their lands.
“There weren’t any soldiers or police in Kukawa that I know of for the entire time that I was there,” he said.
“I knew of a military base in Kroskauwa. And when the government returned some of the Kukawa IDP from Maiduguri, only civilian-JTF was left there to protect the community. So we were practically left to the mercy of the insurgents.”
HumAngle learnt from credible security sources that when IDPs from Kukawa were returned to their hometown, no conventional security outfit was deployed to guard the community.
“There was a time that troops of the Nigeria military used to go there every day and slept over until one day when ISWAP attacked them and collected one MRAP truck and two gun trucks from them; since then, soldiers stopped going to Kukawa,” a top security official confirmed to HumAngle.
It was also gathered the troops later stormed Kukawa to destroy their market when it was realised that the market was being used as ISWAP’s logistic supply hub.
Mohammed Modu, another 39-year-old farmer from Monguno said he had to give up his farming business due to the violent activities of the insurgents.
“I used to be a big beans farmer before Boko Haram came to dislodge us for about seven years,” he said.
Mohammed said he, at some point, had to risk his safety by returning to Monguno to cultivate his plot of land.
“The people of Kukawa are practically living under the control of Boko Haram, who are in charge of land allocation for farming and even access to the markets. So when I got back to Kukawa, I had to get permission from them to cultivate my family’s farmland.
“Before they allow you to cultivate any land, you have to agree with their terms and conditions that you would pay Zakat (compulsory tithe) out of whatever you harvested from the farms,” he said.
Mohammed said the ISWAP local administration in Kukawa had fixed 20 per cent of the entire harvest from approved farmland as compulsory tax.
“If you harvest 10 bags of beans from a piece of farmland, for example, ISWAP takes two bags as tax, and it is non-negotiable. But the problem is sometimes one is faced with multiple taxations. If you give this group, another group might come up and ask for the same 20 per cent. They don’t care if you had given another group before; if you dare take the products to the market without meeting their demands, they will kill you.”
Mohammed said he ran into trouble when he did not pay his tax to the first group that approved the cultivation of the farmland for him.
“Two groups came at different times to collect the tax we gave even though I complained that the harvest was not that good. But suddenly the main group arrived, and I had nothing to offer, so they collected everything, including my money. All I had that year was taken, so I was left with nothing. That was how I packed my luggage and returned to Maiduguri.”
Mohammed said many returnees in parts of Kukawa and Monguno consider the illegal tax deal with the terror group as ‘fair’ because they at least allowed them to farm and grow the food they could feed their families with.
“Many farmers have been killed either for illegal cultivation of lands or for not paying the agreed tax,” said 36 years old Umara. “But if you comply with the agreements, you can cultivate any crops on any size of land. They provide ty for farmers because they give you permission and protection to farm. But if you fall into the wrong hands or a rival group, they take everything from your farm or kill you if resisted.”
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