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HomeBreakingLooming Hunger in Benue, Farmers Denied Access to Homes, Farms

Looming Hunger in Benue, Farmers Denied Access to Homes, Farms

Small Plot Owners Forced to Pay Taxes to Criminal Overlords

By Mike Odeh James and Olikita Ekani

(Makurdi) On his front porch facing south, he faces starvation. On his back porch, he sees death by slaughter. For now, Jacob Ochochepo, a Christian father and husband, scratches out a living on an island in the broad, indifferent waters of the Benue River.

“We have been facing hunger due to our inability to carry out farming activities since we were driven away from our community, Gidan-Pepa, more than a year ago,” Ochochepo tells TruthNigeria. “We are currently living on an island directly opposite our village.”.

“We have been making contact with the armed bandits, begging them to allow us to return home to enable us to carry out our farming activities, but they refused, adding that we either give up our lands or pay rents,” he went on to say.  

“Since then, they have been bringing their cows to graze on our farms. We maneuvered our way to cultivate, even while they were destroying our crops and threatening to kill us if we touched their cattle,” he added.

“We cannot report the atrocities of the Jihadists to the military because they will come after us, and the military will not be available to save us. A similar situation that was reported to the military last year resulted in the killing of our tax collector, Mr. Joseph Ochaigwu,” Ochochepo said.

Ochochepo and many other farmers in Gwer West County 25 miles west of the capital of Makurdi are not alone in this predicament. An investigation by TruthNigeria reporters in different counties of Benue State concluded that farming communities in all the counties are on the brink of collapse due to the stranglehold of the terrorists.

Mr. Saakon Destiny, a farmer in Logo County of Benue State, while sharing his experience with TruthNigeria, said, “The well-armed Fulani Jihadists are occupying vast parts of our land, killing and kidnapping our people, raping our women, destroying our crops, and depriving our people from accessing their farms.”

“The food crisis will worsen next year as the federal government has not carried out any decisive action to drive these killers away from our community,” Destiny said in tears.

“These people are Jihadists, with most of them coming to our land without cattle but with heavy weapons,” said another farmer in Odugbeho Precinct in Agatu County of Benue State, Mr. Edor Saidu, while narrating the atrocities of the armed Fulani herdsmen against his community.

“Anytime they attack and kill our people, they chant the slogan “Allah hu Akhbar.

“They came since September 2023 and occupied a parcel of our land between our neighboring precinct of Odejo in Agatu County and Ikobi in Apa County, stopping everyone from going to farm until the beginning of July 2024, knowing that the right farming period was almost over. The forced removal of Christian farmers and replacement by Muslim invaders from neighboring states has been well documented.

“The hunger and the general hardship we are currently experiencing will worsen in the months ahead,” Saidu went on to say.

Terrorists Replicate Zamfara Tax System in Benue

Farmers in Benue report that Fulani terrorists are replicating the Zamfara Tax System, demanding payment in exchange for access to their lands and farms.

Ochochepo, a farmer in Gwer West County, told TruthNigeria, “They demanded (N100,000) ($66) to allow us to return home and farm. For example, farmers in Gidan-Pepa contributed N40,00 ($27), Achukpa contributed N30,000 ($19), and Ibete also paid N30,000 ($19) to meet the demand. We paid the Jihadist representatives, Geri and Nura, sent from Rukubi Precinct in Nasarawa State.

Odeh Obeya, a rice farmer in Agatu County, gave his tally of extortions:  “Before the rains, they threatened to kill anyone who returned to previously attacked villages. They warned us against farming until we reached an agreement. They demanded N100,000 ($66) from Ikpele and surrounding villages before we could return to our farms and settlements. With eight villages, that’s N800,000, ($528).

“Hunger Looms,” Ochochepo warned.

“Since many farmers and villagers can’t pay, we won’t farm this year, leading to famine in Benue and Nigeria,” he said.

“What’s happening in Agatu is Fulani ethnic militia land-grabbing. They’ve sacked communities and continue attacking villages.”

said Mr Ojotu Ojema, the lawmaker representing Apa/Agatu Federal Constituency at the National Assembly in Abuja, in an exclusive interview with Truthnigeria.

“They know that by attacking, villagers will flee, and terrorists will settle in their lands,” Ojema added. “Apart from deaths and destruction, the atrocities will cause hunger as rural farmers are displaced and can’t access their farms,” Ojema added.

Army Not Here to Attack Terrorists

The lawmaker also conceded that the Nigerian military is standing down from engaging the attackers. “We have Nigerian Army personnel in Agatu, but that doesn’t stop the terrorists. The Army prioritizes what they call peacekeeping over confronting the Fulanis, who are terrorising our people,” Ojema went on to say. “The Nigerian Miltary views the killings as communal clashes between Fulanis and Agatus,” he said.

“According to the Army, the Fulanis are seen as indigenous to Agatu, and so what is happening is a communal clash; however, I can tell you authoritatively, we don’t have indigenous Fulanis in Agatu or the State of Benue,” Ojema further explained.

“These are foreign terrorists bent on taking over our lands. It is purely the same thing that is happening in Jos, Plateau State, that is happening here,” Ojema said.

Mike Odeh James and Olikita Ekani are Conflict Reporters for TruthNigeria

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