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‘If we go back to our farmlands, we will die’

1 May 2024
Reading time: 5 minutes

Borno State farmers say armed men, thought to be insurgents, chased them from their lands five months ago and they threatened to kill anyone who returns.

Hundreds of farmers in the Benisheikh Local Government Area of Borno State have been chased from their lands by armed groups who have threatened to kill them if they return.

The armed men are suspected of being insurgents from the Jamā’at Ahl as-Sunnah lid-Da’way Wa’l-Jihād (JAS), better known as Boko Haram, or its even more brutal breakaway arm, the Islamic West Africa Province (ISWAP).

Farmers from the villages of Barari, Karnakasari, Tomolo, Yijiya and Mayintakurari told RNI that armed groups chased them from their lands five months ago.

They say they want to return to their communities but they are terrified they will be killed.

Most of the villagers are farmers and that’s their only means of making a living.

“For five months we have been unable to go to our villages and farmlands. We do not have anything nutritious to eat and we have no harvests so we have nothing to sell. Our people are starving. We want to farm but we dare not go back to our lands. The armed men told us we will die if we return,” said Mallan Massa.

“The rainy season is coming so we should be clearing our lands and preparing to plant. But we are unsure about the security situation and we don’t want to die.”

Massa said he and his family were now living in Benisheikh because they could not return to their village.

He said in past years he had occasionally travelled to Maiduguri.

“I used to sell firewood and farm produce in Maiduguri and, if I had money, I bought whatever food I could for my family. But I do not have anything to sell and won’t be going to the city soon.

“Unfortunately, it does not look as though we will be able to farm this year. Armed groups – we are certain they are insurgents – chased us from our communities five months ago. They threatened to kill us if go back.

“Last year during the rainy season we were lucky. We were able to farm without any trouble from insurgents. We managed to clear our lands and plant crops. Most of us had a good harvest. We had food to eat and to sell. But that all changed five months ago.

“Since farming is our primary source of livelihood, we did not benefit from any of the palliatives the Borno State government delivered to those in need a few months ago. So we have nothing. It’s time the government stepped up to help us. We need to start farming again soon. The land will provide sustenance and we will be able to sell what we don’t use and that will enable us to buy the essentials we need.”

Muhammad Aminami, also a farmer taking refuge in Benisheikh, confirmed that insurgents had chased everyone from their villages and lands.

“They told us if we returned, we would die. We just ran from our lands and left our crops growing. We have been too scared to go back.

“Now we stay put. We have nothing to do. It’s breaking us. We work the land, that’s our job. But instead we are just sitting idly as the days go by.

“We are truly suffering. Some of us have resorted to begging. We need money for food and other essentials. As bad as it is to beg, at least we do not get attacked.

“All of us would go back to our lands immediately if the government could guarantee our safety. If I were able, I would drop everything and return. I just want to farm. That’s what we all want.”

Muhammad Ali, a member of the civilian joint task force (CJTF) based in Benisheikh, said security operatives patrolled the villages and farmlands every day.

“When we encounter insurgents, we try our best to chase them away or we fight them. But often there are too many of them and we cannot defeat them. They have much more sophisticated weapons than we have.

“The only way to take control is if there is a coordinated operation of all security operatives, including the military. But there are no soldiers here at present and it is difficult to beat the insurgents without help. There are just too many and they are better armed.

“At this time, we cannot to guarantee that the security situation will improve. CJTF members and local hunters are willing to accompany farmers to their lands and to stand guard. But to get rid of the insurgents, we need a better coordinated effort that includes all security operatives. The government must send soldiers to help us. That is the only way to guarantee the safety of farmers. We all have to work together.”



About the author

Rukaiya Alibe