Single herder guarding many cattle along Tewure community

Deadly clashes between herders and farmers have resulted in numerous losses of human and livestock lives, and the destruction of crops, farms, houses, and means of livelihood in Nigeria. A 2021 report by the Africa Center for Strategic Studies claims that violence involving pastoralist herders in West and Central Africa—as perpetrators and victims—has been surging in recent years.

Every day, Oseni Iyanda, a 55-year-old farmer in Oyo state, wakes up with dreams of golden fields and thriving crops. But there is a twist — a challenge that hinges on frustration. Lately, Mr Iyanda who inherited farming from his deceased father often experiences incessant attacks by cattle herders on his farm. For three consecutive years between 2018 to 2020, he could not make profitable harvests due to cattle encroachment.

On a calm Saturday evening, Mr Iyanda returned home tired from the farm and sat on a wooden bench placed adjacent to his house. This father of seven and farmer of three decades from Idiya village in Orire Local Government Area (LGA) of Oyo State finally thinks of giving up on his profession due to incessant herder attacks.

One of the incidents fuelling the discouragement happened in 2021. That year, Mr. Iyanda gleefully watched his cassava grow, but his happiness was quickly cut short as the harvested produce worth about N100,000 was consumed by encroaching cattle. Fortunately for him, he caught the cattle herders and reported them to Agro Rangers, a special security unit under the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC). 

Farmer attacked by herder on his farm at Budo-Afa village

The intervention of the local armed force made the herders pay N50,000 to Mr Iyanda, the Agro rangers also collected a fee of N5,000 from the money leaving him with just N45,000. Agro rangers charge N2,000 for every N20,000 successfully collected from herders on behalf of farmers.

In the same year, herdsmen and their cattle encroached on Mr Iyanda’s other farm where he dried cassava flour that cost up to N60,000 and destroyed it. As usual, Agro rangers helped him to recover N30,000 from the herders and removed their charge of N3,000. 

“There’s no gain in destroying our farms and paying us for their wickedness because they won’t pay a profitable amount, and the forces will also collect from it for their efforts. The best thing is to stay away from our farms,” Mr. Iyanda lamented.

The cry for herders to vacate the southwestern region of Yoruba land is exacerbated by the attacks on farmers and their farms. Relatively all farmers in the region clamour for the evacuation of the cattle herders to the northern region.

Saka Soliu, an Amotekun member in Orire LGA, said it will be difficult to tell herders to evacuate from Yoruba land due to the long-time relationship between the Yoruba elders and Fulani elders.

Farmers’ Association Successes—and Challenges

On February 16, 2012, farmers in Orire LGA formed an association named Idera Agbe Farmers Association to look after the welfare of farmers and tackle herders’ attack issues. According to Pa. Eziekel Amole, a septuagenarian and chairman of the association, they formed the association to protect their farms from herders and their cattle. 

Two farmers killed during an attack in Orire villages

Consisting of about 240 communities of farmers, the association works hand-in-hand with the Police, Amotekun, and Agro rangers among others to carry out their duties and secure justice for their members.

“It has been a tough journey so far to head the association, the herders always report me, and the police have arrested me on several occasions,” narrated Pa Amole. 

Herders’ complained that the farmers were blocking their means of livelihood and killing their cows. About 3 years ago, the police arrested the septuagenarian and other seven executive members of the association and took them to Osogbo, the capital city of Osun state. 

After questioning, Pa Amole asked the policemen to escort him to Orire LGA to inspect the farms destroyed by the herders. After five days in custody, the police granted them bail.

“We have been able to get justice in most [not all] cases, some herders have relocated from our boundaries and the fear of our existence made the remaining herders minimise their assaults on farms,” he added.

Cattle feeding on a cleared farmland along Aladere village

The Idera Agbe association used to have 240 communities. Now, the number is down to 60. According to Pa Amole, some villages stopped being members because herders had left their areas, while some stopped attending the meetings because herders refused to vacate their territories and saw no reason to continue with the association.

However, despite Idera Agbe’s efforts, herders are still destroying farms in Orire LGA. Ayanleke Ayankale, 45, the assistant general secretary of Idera Agbe showed The Liberalist myriads pictures of farms destroyed by the cattle herders and photographs of farmers attacked in different farms.

Saidu Shehu, a 32-year-old farmer, narrated how herders’ cattle encroached on his farm in 2022 in the Olokiti community and destroyed his cassava. 

“It was a painful day when I reached the farm and saw everything shattered and scattered. That was not the first time they damaged my farm but it was always in parts, not the entire farm,” decried Saidu.

A young farmer attacked by cattle herder (now dead)

When he engaged with the herdsmen over the destruction, they negotiated and paid him N17,000 to forgive and forget. Soon after, another Saidu’s farm where he planted Soybeans was destroyed by another herd of cattle. When he engaged the herder, he asked him to do his worst.

The Context

Deadly clashes between herders and farmers have resulted in numerous losses of human and livestock lives, and the destruction of crops, farms, houses, and means of livelihood in Nigeria. A 2021 report by the Africa Center for Strategic Studies claims that violence involving pastoralist herders in West and Central Africa—as perpetrators and victims—has been surging in recent years. Since 2010, there have been over 15,000 deaths linked to farmer-herder violence. Half of those occurred between 2018 and 2021.

According to the report, violent events between pastoralists and farming communities in Nigeria have been concentrated in the northwestern, Middle Belt, and recently southern states.

Oyo state is not excluded from this bloodshed. According to a 2022 report, herders ambushed a group of farmers on their way to Atisbo Local Government for an awareness campaign and forced about 30 from Oke-Ogun area of Oyo State into critical conditions and admitted for treatments at different hospitals. 

Festus Omotola, the CEO of Methu Agribusiness Refinery and an Agricultural consultant based in Ilorin explained that farmer-herder crises are exacerbated during the dry season due to a lack of fresh grasses for cattle.

“The herder and cattle ratio is also a cause of the problem. In the sense that one herder will be guarding more than 100 cattle, how can he control them without destroying farms?”

Nomad hut of cattle herder built in a cultivated farmland

Mr Omotola revealed the way forward requires farmers and herders within a certain community to come into a common term. 

“There are villages where they never had any cases of cattle eating up farms. The reason for that kind of success is the dialogue among them. So, the community leaders [farmers] should call herders to meetings and tell them that they can coexist peacefully without fighting. They should set a limit to where herders can guard their cattle,” he said.

Cattle Herders React

In his late 20s, Mallam Sanni Garuba, a herder grazing around Elebe, Onigba, Elefo, Kedo, Aladere, Onikoko, and some nearby communities in Oyo state, alleged that farmers believe they destroyed their farms intentionally. But that is not the case. 

“Sometimes, we find it difficult to control our cattle due to their stubbornness when they are entering farmlands,” he said.

“There was a day we mistakenly grazed a farm in the Kedo community, the farmer arrested us in the morning leaving no one to guard our cattle. Before we could return in the evening, the cattle had destroyed another farm.”

Single herder guarding many cattle along Tewure community

Herders said they are aware the farmers are demanding their evacuation, the only problem is that they have nowhere to go. Mallam Jimoh, another herder grazing in Orire LGA, disclosed that they would gladly like to leave the land, “but even the northern part of the country is not vacant for open grazing.

“Herders and farmers can coexist peacefully if the farmers permit it because most of the farmers, including those we have never touched their farms, loathe us and want us to go into extinction,” he said.

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