As the insecurity occasioned by rural banditry bites harder, some residents of frontline local governments in Katsina State have either abandoned their farms or resort to forceful payment of taxes to bandits.
According to the Katsina State Government, some 5,884 farmlands were abandoned due to the attacks. From January to June 2021 alone, according to the government, 23,333 hectares of 2,924 farmlands have been abandoned.
In Danmusa Local Government, farmers mostly in Gurzar-Kuka, Mara, Dunya and other villages that are close to forests are either paying taxes to bandits to access their farms or forced to work on the farms of the criminals.
The District Head of Batsari, Alhaji Tukur Muazu, confirmed that no fewer than eight village heads in Batsari have fled their domains and now taking refuge in Katsina city.
“Nobody is living in these villages and the fringes of the forests except those that are either penniless or the bandits’ associates. They stopped farmers from farming and cattle are no longer there. Thousands of people have migrated to Batsari and the town is filled to the brim. This has jerked up rent as there are no more houses available for rent.
“As we share boundary with Zamfara State, most of these bandits cross over from there and commit atrocities in our land. Even if the bandits in our land are committed to a peace pact, what are we going to do with those who come from Zamfara? We only appeal to government to rise up to its responsibility and do the needful.”
He further confided to our reporter that for three consecutive years, he has not cultivated his two hectares farm as he had to abandon it for the bandits.
We learnt that in a number of villages in Batsari LG where people still live, they are either forced to pay taxes, buy fertilizer or work in the farms of the bandits before they are allowed to till their farmlands. And the practice has been on for years.
Checks showed that farmers in Batsarin-Alhaji, Nahuta, Kasai, Dangeza, Dantudu and many others had either paid in the past or still pay such illegal taxes to bandits to allow them to access their farms.
In some instances, while the farmers are harvesting farm produce, the bandits would release cattle onto the farm to graze on the produce and cause destruction.
Revelations by farmers who pay tax in Batsari rural areas
Every household in Batsarin-Alhaji had to pay N500 to the bandits from the last farming season. Thereafter, the bandits continuously demand that the villagers supply them with fertilizer. The villagers had to tax themselves to purchase the fertilizer.
Alhaji Sa’adu Nuhu Batsari, 65, a large-scale farmer said he stopped tilling three of his farms of 20 hectares each for over two years due to insecurity, lamenting that the heightened banditry is driving both big and subsistence farmers out of farming.
“Once you’re on the farm these people would come and abduct, kill or harass you. I abandoned my farms that are deep inside the bush and now work on the one close to town that is only two hectares. They constantly threaten to stop me from going to that farm too.”
Sani Muslim Batsari, Chairman of Batsari Local Development Association, also lamented that he has been forced to stop cultivating his big farms in the bush in the last two years due to the worsening insecurity situation in Batsari.
“I was harvesting almost 300 bags, but now I harvest only 50 bags or less in my small farm that’s closer to the town.
“Bandits have taken over many forests and cleared them for farming. Some of them can harvest 3,000 bags of grains. Some villagers confided in us that these bandits have hijacked their farms without paying a kobo to them.
“Their activities are taking a toll on our well-being; they have led to shortage of food and skyrocketing prices and lack of menial jobs for your youth as the large-scale farmers that employ hundreds of them have since abandoned the farms.
“President Buhari had, during the onset of the rainy season, assured us that we would go back to our farms this season. Alas, that has remained a mirage! I can categorically tell you that now more than 70 per cent of farmers in Batsari LG have stopped farming,’’ he lamented.
Muhammed Auwal, 55, a farmer in Nahuta village said from the last farming season, farmers in his village were asked to pay tax to bandits to access their farms but that didn’t protect them from attacks by the bandits.
“They’d seize our cattle or motorbikes. This season, they asked our neighbouring village, Kasai, to contribute money and buy fertilizer for them which they did.
“Last season, every household in Nahuta had to pay N1,000 and we contributed more than N2 million as tax for the bandits which we delivered to them before they allowed us to farm. But this season, we’re lucky because they didn’t ask for tax from us maybe because soldiers have been deployed to our community. But villages surrounding us are still battling with these insecurity issues.”
Dahiru Usman Wada, 50, from Kurawa community said bandits confiscated his two hectares farm and planted on it.
“They made ridges and planted crops; their motive is to kidnap me if I went there, so I had to leave the farm for them. I have now relocated to Batsari town and got a small farm close to the town,’’ he added.
A farmer who simply identified himself as Salisu, 45, from Tashar Modibbo said he could only cultivate seven out of the 20 acres of his farmland due to insecurity in his village.
“Even this farming season we were asked to pay N2,000 as tax for everyone who has cattle-ridge tool and I have one, so I paid N2,000 last year and this farming season.
“We contributed at least N200,000 to them. Once we fail to pay the tax; they would not allow us to farm and they can still confiscate your motorbike, mobile phone or money. No one can dare say he won’t pay the tax. We don’t inform authorities for fear of consequences,’’ he added.
Testimonies of farmers in Danmusa, Dandume and Dutsin-Ma LGAs
When our reporter visited Gurzar-Kuka village, Audu Sada, a farmer, related how his brother recently donated N20,000 as the balance of N200,000 earlier demanded by bandits as tax before they allowed them to access their farms and escape from being kidnapped.
“Recently, they came here in broad daylight wielding AK47 rifles, asking us to contribute N200,000 before we would access our farms. They promised that when we paid the money they wouldn’t kidnap anybody among us. My elder brother had personally paid N20,000 as our contribution,” he said.
“That’s the only option we have because our communities have been forgotten by the government. The truth is that the bandits have taken over power here. Because since they came and killed about seven people last year, we’ve not witnessed the presence of police officers in our villages. Even when we reported to Danmusa Divisional Office they’d not dare coming here.”
On whether the bandits are from neighbouring countries, Audu said, “Maybe that’s happening in some places, but obviously, here all of them are known to us and they know us. Some of them were our childhood friends but when they joined the bandits, they left their families and moved into the bush. They only come down in numbers when they want to terrorise us.”
He also said there are other herdsmen that are still leaving peacefully within the communities even though they carried guns.
“We’re still living peacefully with those of them that are not criminals even though most of them have acquired guns for self-defence against cattle rustlers. Usually, because the bandits are their relatives, when the bandits come and kidnap people among us, they mediate between us and the bandits to make sure the ransom is not too high,” he also said.
Our reporter also gathered that recently, two farmers were shot dead by bandits in Kurechi village of Dutsin-Ma local government for failure to pay the leader, known as Habibu, tax for them to access their farms. One of the victims died from gunshot wounds while the other is still receiving treatment.
Many farmers in the area, including dry season Anchor Borrower rice farmers, have also deserted their farms over the uncertainty. Many farmers who spoke to Daily Trust explained that Habibu had been forcing them to pay money ranging from N50,000 to N100,000 before they could access their farms or face his wrath of kidnapping or killing his victims.
According to our source in the village who pleaded anonymity, the bandit leader, who is well known to them, had earlier promised not to allow any farmer to access his farm for the whole of this season in Kurechi, Sana’wa, Jan-ruwa and other communities within.
“Recently bandits under Habibu’s command came here and shot two farmers. One had died while the other is still receiving treatment,” the source recalled.
He added, “We know him very well. There’s a time the vigilante conducted a house-to-house search for guns from herdsmen and AK47 rifles were recovered from his father and elder brother and that led to their execution by the vigilante.
“That’s how that little boy, Habibu, escaped into the bush and joined the bandits. And all of a sudden, he had metamorphosed into a gang leader and began to terrorize our communities. He’d even promised not to allow anybody to go to the farm this year.
“Many farmers are paying him what he demanded from them out of fear for their lives. If you dare them, you’ll die because security operatives don’t come here to our aid.”
Alhaji Mato (not real name) is a farmer at Kwanar Kura village of Dandume Local Government Area of Katsina State who also recounted his ordeal with bandits this year to our reporter. He also expressed concern about the increasing insecurity in the area. He recalled how he had pay bandits from the beginning of the season before they allowed him to plant his farm and how they also demanded more money during the weeding period.
“From the beginning of the season, I had to pay them N50,000 before they allowed me to plant corn in my farm. And recently, they chased the labourers that I sent to weed the farm. They threatened them and issued a verbal warning to me. They said my due had expired, and I should pay another N50,000 to them to allow the labourers to continue work on my farm. I didn’t have any other option than to pay because nobody dares challenge them,” he lamented.
Most of the traditional rulers contacted in Danmusa, Dandume and Dutsin-Ma confirmed the presence of bandits in their communities but declined to comment, insisting that they were not allowed by the Katsina Traditional Council to speak on the security issues.
State government reacts
Dr. Yakubu Abba Abdullahi, a Special Adviser on Agriculture to Katsina State Governor, in an interview confirmed that banditry has adversely affected agricultural activities in the state, saying since 2020, thousands of farmlands had been abandoned in 12 local governments worse hit by insecurity.
He said: “5,884 farmlands with estimated 58,330 hectares have been abandoned due to this insecurity. And 590 incidents of attacks were recorded whilst 159,613 cattle were rustled with almost 156,000 persons displaced mostly from rural communities and 226,650 real farmers who cultivate 6,800 hectares were affected. All these occurred in 2020 and they reduced the state’s farm produce that year to barely about 30 per cent.
“From January to June 2021, 23,333 hectares of 2,924 farmlands have been abandoned. And 651 cases of either attacks or abductions have been recorded and 17,733 cattle were rustled. This is projected to affect 17 per cent of agricultural activities in 2021.
“However, the situation has relatively improved as reports we receive show that some no go farm areas are now being accessed due to airstrikes by the military in those areas. And the security reports we get also suggest that the marauding bandits are coming from neighbouring Zamfara State. They would come and raid our rural communities and go back to their domain in Zamfara; but only security agents could verify this,” he added.
The Special Adviser on Agriculture confirmed that 12 local government areas in the state were worse hit by banditry among them Batagarawa, Batsari, Danmusa, Faskari, Dutsin-Ma, Jibia, Kankara, Kurfi, Sabuwa and Safana, adding that the areas serve as agricultural hubs.
He also assured farmers that both federal and state governments are making efforts in tackling banditry maintaining that farmers have resumed farming in Kankara and Sabuwa which hitherto recorded zero activities.
Source: Daily Trust