â€¢ FG to deploy 3,000 agro rangers to check marauding cattle breeders
Ndubuisi Francis and Olawale Ajimotokan in Abuja and James Sowole in Akure
About 15 riot policemen drafted to the farm of the former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Chief Olu Falae, at the weekend escaped death by a whisker, when suspected herdsmen allegedly opened fire on them in the farm.
News of the incident came just as the federal government announced Monday that it would deploy 3,000 specially trained agro rangers across the country to checkmate the menace of herdsmen whose activities had impacted negatively on farm produce in recent years.
It was gathered that the herdsmen numbering about 10, stormed Falaeâ€™s farm located at Kajola in Igbatoro area of Akure North Local Government of Ondo State and destroyed it.
The destruction of the farm prompted Falae to invite the police, only for the herdsmen to attack the policemen deployed by the state Commissioner of Police Hilda Harrison.
Two years ago, Falae had an encounter with suspected herdsmen on his farmland, who kidnapped him and killed one of his guards.
After a few days in captivity, the former SGF was rescued by the police, while his abductors were apprehended. They are currently facing trial before an Akure High Court.
During last weekendâ€™s renewed invasion of his farm, it was gathered that when the herdsmen sighted the policemen who had been deployed by the CP, they allegedly opened fire on them, leading to an exchange of gunfire.
At the time of the incident, eyewitnesses said over 300 cows had been let loose on the farm by the herdsmen to graze.
During the deadly exchange, some cows were reportedly killed, while the herdsmen were said to have fled in different directions.
Falae confirmed the invasion of his farm by the herdsmen and the gunfire incident.
â€œI invited the police to my farm because the herdsmen have been coming to the farm everyday for several weeks and they are no longer hiding.
â€œThey come into the farm around 5 a.m. till 9 a.m. and destroy the farm, so I went to the police for protection and some policemen were sent to the farm at the weekend.
â€œThey got to the farm and met three separate herds feeding fat on my crops, but when the police approached them they fired at the police.
â€œThe policemen went there to see if they could arrest them for trespassing and destroying farm produce. So, if the herdsmen fired at the police what would they do to me?â€ he wondered.
Also confirming the incident, the Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), Mr. Femi Joseph, said he was aware that policemen were deployed in the farm to arrest the trespassing herdsmen.
However, he said he was not aware of any exchange of gunfire by the police and the herdsmen, adding that the intruders were pursued from the farm.
Joseph said no arrest was made, but an investigation had been launched into the incident.
Coming on the heels of the incident in Falaeâ€™s farm, the federal government announced Monday that it would deploy 3,000 specially trained agro rangers across the country to checkmate the menace of herdsmen whose activities had impacted negatively on farm produce in recent years.
The 3,000 agro rangers will be under a special unit drawn from the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) and trained before being deployed, it said.
The Minister of Interior, Gen. Abdulrahman Dambazau, who made the disclosure at the public presentation of the 2017 budget in Abuja, said his ministry had already made a request for the release of funds to commence training, after which the rangers would be deployed nationwide.
Dambazau was reacting to a question on what the government was doing to give practical expression to its mantra of ensuring food security in the face of the obvious menacing threat posed by herdsmen.
He noted that the threat of herdsmen was one of the security challenges that had not only assumed a regional but also a continental dimension.
â€œThe issue of herdsmen is seen as localised. It has both regional and continental dimensions. As long as we remain under the ECOWAS protocol on free movement, the problem will remain,â€ he said, adding that the problem was that of the sub-regional body not ensuring effective monitoring.
He also noted that the ECOWASâ€™ decision of 1998 was yet to be implemented to reduce some of these conflicts.
â€œWe plan to create a group from NSCDC to be known as â€˜Agro Rangersâ€™. The special unit would be asked to protect public and private farms. We made a request for funds about two months back,â€ he said, adding that about 3,000 civil defence personnel would be trained and deployed in various states to protect farms and farmers.
The minister pointed out that states of the federation also have a big role to play in checking the activities of herdsmen, stressing that some of the routes that were hitherto carved out for the movement of cattlemen had been turned to farms.
Also during an interactive session held Monday with a team of social media influencers, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, further revealed that the government has approved the distribution of 200 rice mills to farmers across the country under a Livelihood Improvement Family Enterprise (LIFE) scheme.
Ogbeh explained that the scheme would create an atmosphere for food processing mills to be established in rural areas to create wealth and jobs for rural women and youths.
Ogbeh also disclosed that there was a budgetary provision in this yearâ€™s budget for the building of dams and lakes in order to have all-year round planting seasons and harvests.
He, however, clarified that his ministry had not endorsed genetically modified crops, but was adopting the use of hybrid seeds for farmers.
He urged state governments to give more support to the development of the agricultural sector and asked the social media influencers to pass the message to the public.