Herders in Nigeria attack, displace farmers in fight for land resources: “We heard a voice calling for help amongst the butchered men”

My farming community remains one of several under attack in the Middlebelt area of Nigeria. Consequently, the attacks drive food insecurity throughout the country.

  • 2 months ago
  • February 29, 2024
7 min read
Ten men from a farming community went in search of food after being displaced and nine were brutally murdered. | Photo courtesy of A. D Kitan Jenuwa Ten men from a farming community went in search of food after being displaced and nine were brutally murdered. | Photo courtesy of A. D Kitan Jenuwa
journalist’s notes
interview subject
A. D Kitan Jenuwa left Nigeria’s capital where he worked for many years to return to his birth village: Jenawu Gida, Takum, in Nigeria’s Middlebelt state of Taraba. He intended to help the village with development, resulting in the addition of a generator for electricity. In 2022, five years after his return, he had to flee from his land after cattle herders began attacking and murdering farmers. Scientists say the local lake is shrinking, which has caused conflict between the groups. He currently rents a small room with his wife and four children. They face starvation and the kids are not attending school.
background information
Violence between herders and farmers in Nigeria’s North Central and North West regions has become increasingly bloody. Since 2010, over 15,000 people have been killed in the crises. The conflict is often caused by a scramble for scarce resources, leading to attacks and retaliatory attacks. Bandits and armed militias wield more power because of their sophisticated weaponry, sacking many villages and many times, occupying the land. Vulnerable groups such as women, children, and farmers are gravely impacted.

TARABA, Nigeria — One fateful morning in February of 2022, we woke up to screams and commotion coming from our neighboring community. They had been attacked overnight. From where we stood, we could see smoke billowing from afar. It terrified us, so we took to our heels. When it felt safe to return, we searched for people to rescue. We found neighbors slaughtered and their houses, animals, and valuables burned. The attackers came in large numbers.

Thinking they would not return for a long while, we slept in our own village that night. Suddenly, the sound of gunfire jarred us awake and the attackers continued their reign of hell and terror. I fled with my family, leaving everything behind. After a few days, we returned in search of food, valuables, and important documents – anything we could salvage.

My house survived the rampage but finding food for my family mattered most. Fearfully, we quickly dug up yams, grabbed some valuables, and ran from the village. Located close to the military barracks, my community always felt safe.  We never imagined we would be attacked, but we were wrong. 

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A group of ten men who went to find food got ambushed, nine were butchered

In May 2022, the vicious attackers killed five Nigerian Army personnel and abducted a lieutenant colonel in Tati village in Takum. Knowing the attackers brazenly targeted the military, we believed our village remained unsafe and we could not stay.

Frequent attacks occurred several times a year since 2017 and with these incidences increasing, my community of 50,000 deserted the village in 2022. In November of the following year, my two brothers and eight male relatives faced an assault. They snuck home to harvest food for their starving family. On the way, they encountered an ambush.

After some time, we went out to find them. Brutal gunshots and cuts from machetes covered their bodies. In some cases, the attackers nearly severed the head from the neck, held only by a tiny piece of flesh. Arms, feet, and other body parts, they cut clean off. Suddenly, we heard a voice calling for help amongst the butchered men. One of them survived. Once he knew we were not the attackers, he spoke. We took him to the hospital for help. They slit his mouth with a machete, tearing it all the way to the jaw.

After that bloody attack, we began taking photos and documenting the horror. In the past, we quickly buried victims, anywhere from five to 30 of them. We never took pictures or made it public because we wanted to protect the families from seeing the way their loved ones died. Yet, documenting the scale of the attacks proved a good move. It drew the attention of the Deputy Governor and the Southern Taraba Senator, who took notice of our plight. They raised a motion in the state assembly in response.

Food prices skyrocket as farmers remain under attack, Nigeria suffers

When the 50,000 residents of our community left, we became scattered everywhere. Our children lost the option to attend school. We had no displaced people’s camp. Some went on to other communities to look for farming jobs. I feel sad thinking how these people – who had their own land and their own farms – now work for someone else.

It becomes increasingly difficult to feed my family. We once bravely snuck in our villages to gather food, but after those ten able-bodied men died, our fear escalated. We face death by starvation or at the hands of our attackers. Other than a couple of teachers, we all farmed. We grew yams, potatoes, millet, maize, groundnut, and other staples, which we supplied to the rest of the country. We tended big farms, and smaller ones behind our houses.

Now, our elders lost the tie to the life they always knew. My farming community remains one of several under attack in the Middlebelt area of Nigeria. Consequently, the attacks drive food insecurity throughout the country. Millions of farmers in Plateau, Benue, Taraba, Nasarawa, and Niger cannot enter their farms. The attacks remain widespread.

Now, food prices increase, thus causing suffering for many Nigerians. Currently, a bag of maize in Takum costs 45,000 Naira, six times the price it used to be. Just last year, one bag cost 7,000 Naira. Ten tubers of yams used to be 1,500 Naira. Today, it costs 15,000. “How do we afford this,” I ask. Farmers, who used to eat what we produced and shared it with family and friends, have no food. We cannot afford the very food we used to cultivate and sell.

We grew, sold, and ate produce from our farms, now we depend on handouts

Some farmers have people working in the city now. They can call for help, but city life also presents challenges with skyrocketing inflation. Those without help feel abandoned. Some churches gave us maize, beans, and rice once, and the government offered medicine, but that was it. Nothing more came. I tried to start a small business with the grinding machine I grabbed when we fled, but the money I make cannot feed my family.

The villagers and farmers once enjoyed a vibrant and free lifestyle, but now they are displaced in Nigeria. | Photo courtesy of A. D Kitan Jenuwa

We cannot live as internally displaced persons. We do not want to survive in a camp; we want the government to help us return home. I had other opportunities, having studied, lived, and worked in Nigeria’s capital of Abuja. In 2017, I returned to my birthplace to contribute to the life of my people and help develop the community. Through my hard work, we received a transformer to generate electricity. I remember the day it came.

A celebration erupted as we danced to our traditional music. Things looked positive and life felt good. I saw a future for my village. People purchased land for businesses and transformational development started to occur. Then, everything came to a grinding halt, cutting my dream short. Now, my farming community sits in the hands of invaders who settled there while my wife, four children, and I squeeze into a small, rented room, lacking the basics we enjoyed so freely before.

Shrinkage of water source causes conflict between herders and farmers: “I just want to go back to my village”

Scientists say the shrinking of Lake Chad caused cattle herders to stay in the south longer, instead of returning to the north after grazing season. As they linger on those traditional grazing routes in the south, tensions erupt between the herders and the farmers. Herders also accuse the government of allocating land to building of infrastructure and for agriculture, further shrinking their grazing routes.

At first, they let the cattle loose on our farms, where the animals grazed off our produce, destroying important crops and causing losses. In time, the herders began to attack and we felt terrified. They raped and robbed the women they did not murder. The attackers speak Fulani but we do not wish to profile the entire Fulani tribe, so we call them bandits.

It feels shocking to see this behavior, as we lived alongside the Fulani communities for centuries. It never used to be like this between us. Now, I simply miss home. I miss our water, food, the loving community, and our incredible history. Everyone on this planet knows, there is no place like home. I just want to go back to my village; we all do.

Translation Disclaimer

Translations provided by Orato World Media are intended to result in the end translated document being understandable in the end language. Although every effort is made to ensure our translations are accurate we cannot guarantee the translation will be without errors.


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