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How Boko Haram turns wealthy Northern farmers, traders to paupers

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Boko Haram insurgents in Nigeria’s northeast have crippled the economy of agrarian communities, with millions of displaced farmers not only living in internally displaced persons (IDP) camps, but also revealing a grace to grass story as people who were once wealthy have become impoverished and begging to survive.

BusinessDay correspondent recently embarked on a trip to Borno and Yobe; two of the most affected states by Boko Haram insurgents, and in the encounters with people, though they tried to be hopeful; defeat, demoralisation, desperation and absolutely no clue on when things will possibly get better was very evident.

As people who were once farmers and traders in agricultural commodities shared their experiences, sadness and despair was conveyed in the tone. Till date, farmers remain targets for the insurgents and are killed when they venture into the farms, making many stay put in the IDP camps.

“Recently, the insurgents killed about 15 of our farmers. They came and reported to me and I asked; what can I do about it? It happened in this Jere area where they went to clear their farms and gather some firewood. All of them were slaughtered on their farms, and there is nothing anybody can do about it. And that is why even now, no one goes outside Maiduguri, off the tarred road for more than five to six kilometres,” said Abdulkadir Jidda, chairman, All Farmers Association of Nigeria, Borno State Chapter.

Even Abba Gambo, a professor at the University of Maiduguri, who is also a member of the El Kanemi royal family, and says 32 members of his family have been lost to insurgency has been unable to visit his farm in the last five years. The farm, which according to Gambo is located five kilometres from the university of Maiduguri, is within the village called Dalori, which has one of the IDP camps named after it, due to proximity.

“We cannot access it, and then the military will tell us not to grow sorghum, millet or other crops that will grow high. You have to grow legumes like groundnut and cowpeas, and then the last time the Boko Haram people came with pamphlets, dropping it in the village that anyone who grows tall growing crops will be eliminated.

“And then I have an orchard behind the Chad Basin Development Authority, with about 100 mango trees in it and they were fruiting very well. I was taking very good care of them and the harvest used to be plentiful, and then during the dry season when the river comes, I plant rice on the farm and used to get about 100 bags of paddy rice. But can you believe that for the last five years, I could not step into the farm.

“And honestly, I do not have the guts to go there. I just do not have,” Gambo lamented.

The killing of farmers and the fear of going into farms is not all that places a burden on the minds of many people, but the unfortunate conditions many erstwhile successful farmers and traders have now found themselves.

“Imagine coming from a village where you were so rich there, with plenty cattle, food, everything, and within one hour you’re forced to run out with one gown, or one jumper, you come here but no one cares about you, because many are like you. You see someone who was the richest person in their area, begging in the market here in Maiduguri, this is how bad it is,” Jidda, Borno’s AFAN chairman tells BusinessDay.

Sharing his personal grief, he says “it was a terrible thing for me, especially because I have a large family and being a leader of the farmers, but now sitting at home doing nothing for five, six years. You can’t imagine the pain I am in, you just can’t imagine it.”

In Potiskum, Abubakar Agwai, Yobe state secretary of the Amalgamated cattle dealers association of Nigeria, also lamented that “before insurgency, this was the only market in Nigeria where we spend not less than N950 million every week during the market days of Tuesday,Wednesday, and Thursday. This amount is spent just to buy cows and take them to the southern parts of the country. But it is very unfortunate that this insurgency has severely impacted us, and reduced our capacity to do business like before.

“Many people are unable to cope and recover from the losses. This is because, someone who in the past was buying 15 cows to send to the southern part of the country, is now unable to buy anything. Most of them are now labourers in the market.

“Imagine someone that bought cows and transported to places like Warri, Lagos, Enugu and other places (in the south), is now the one working for those coming to buy, so they can give him some change to live on,” Agwai told BusinessDay.

The tales by several traders and farmers share the common theme of despair as the rich at some point are now beggars, and in all of these, hope becomes difficult to hold on to as there appears to be no end in sight to the insurgency.

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