The verdant plains of Benue State offer a serene and reassuring sense of peace to any visitor passing through this region, aptly known as the “Food Basket of the Nation.” Benue is richly endowed with natural resources and agricultural potential, much like its neighbor, Taraba State, to the west. Taraba, with its lush greenery, rolling hills, and expansive valleys, is equally blessed with agricultural prowess, serving as a home to both subsistence and commercial farmers, as well as pastoralists,Daily Trust report.
The riverine hinterlands of these states share similarities with those in southern Kaduna, where agriculture continues to be a vital activity. These regions, along with other parts of northern Nigeria, possess fertile and arable land resources, making them a haven for agricultural activities.
However, over the past two decades, a long-standing conflict has escalated between farmers and pastoralists over land use, plunging several parts of the region into violent crises. These conflicts, often taking on religious and ethnic dimensions, have been a historical issue, but they’ve become more pronounced due to the pressures of a growing population and climate change, which exacerbate the competition for arable land.
Traditional methods of conflict resolution have deteriorated to near non-existence, prompting the Nigerian government to deploy security forces, predominantly the military, to restore law and order and facilitate peace-building efforts between farmers and herders in these communities.
However, this investigation reveals allegations that some security personnel deployed to these areas to restore peace have instead exacerbated the situation through acts of intimidation, extortion, and subversion of justice. Our reporter, who visited Taraba, Benue, and Kaduna states, found a prevailing atmosphere of gloom, hopelessness, and disillusionment among both farmers and herders.
Extortion of Herders and Farmers in Benue State
In the Wadata neighborhood of Makurdi, Benue State’s capital, one can find one of the largest multilingual communities in the state, home to one Ali Ibrahim, a Fulani pastoralist. In June 2023, our visit to Makurdi prompted Ibrahim to recount how his 16-year-old son, Isiyaka, was arrested in April and allegedly killed by soldiers. He claimed that a soldier named Sergeant Shehu Adaka had informed him that his son had been arrested and detained for grazing too close to a military-restricted area in Adaka, Makurdi Local Government Area. Allegedly, the soldier had demanded money for his son’s release.
Ibrahim transferred N100,000 to the soldiers and was promised that his son would be released the same evening. However, his son was not returned, and instead, his lifeless body was discovered three days later in a nearby bush. This tragic incident was the second time Isiyaka had been arrested and detained by soldiers, as a month earlier, he had been detained for unwittingly entering a military-restricted area in the same Adaka.
Ibrahim tearfully revealed that paying money to soldiers had become a weekly ritual for pastoralists during Saturday markets. He alleged that the soldiers regularly provided them with bank account numbers for money transfers.
Muazu Abubakar and Lawal Shehu, two Fulani men residing in Wadata, corroborated Ibrahim’s story, asserting that military personnel in Makurdi extorted money from them during market days. These herders shared their experiences at the Benue office of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN).
The herders provided our reporter with a phone number allegedly belonging to a military person who collected these “returns.” A name search using Truecaller identified the individual as “Sgt Shehu Oc. Adaka,” who is a soldier attached to Operation Whirl Stroke, a military team deployed to Benue State in 2018 to restore law and order and provide security to the region.
Our correspondent reached out to Sgt Adaka via phone, and he claimed to have been on medical leave since August 2022 due to an accident. However, a reliable military source disclosed that Sgt Adaka was stationed around Adaka community, where there had been a series of extortion complaints against him, leading to his transfer from Adaka in June.
The public relations officer of Operation Whirl Stroke, Flight Lieutenant Oquoh David, confirmed Sgt Shehu Oc. Adaka’s identity as their personnel but expressed doubts about their involvement in extortion, emphasizing, “I don’t think anything like that happened.” Nonetheless, several herders reported that some military personnel in Benue State had harassed and extorted money from them despite Operation Whirl Stroke’s presence.
Mamman Ahmed, a Fulani pastoralist and former MACBAN chairman in Tarka Local Government Area of the state, testified that military extortion was widespread and alarming. He stated that he had been provided with a bank account number for money transfers but couldn’t provide the account details due to a recent phone damage. Nevertheless, he presented several Point of Sale (POS) receipts to demonstrate that he had transferred money to an alleged military personnel. The first receipt showed a transfer of N100,000 to a recipient named Shaagee, with faded other names. Another receipt displayed a transfer of N10,000 to the same recipient on a different date, while two more receipts indicated transfers of N40,000 and N200,000 at different intervals.
Although Ahmed insisted that the transfers were made to soldiers, the POS receipts lacked account numbers, and only single names were visible on them. In addition, Ardo Saja Abdullahi, a Fulani leader who had relocated to Awe Local Government Area of Nasarawa State, provided our reporter with a bank account number he alleged belonged to military personnel involved in extortion. The account was identified as belonging to one Anas Isah in an Access Bank search. Despite attempts to verify Anas Isah’s identity with the public relations officer of Operation Whirl Stroke, no response was received.
As allegations of extortion continue to escalate tensions between pastoralists and security agents responsible for protecting lives and property in the region, MACBAN in Benue State reported that they had lodged numerous complaints, even at army headquarters in Abuja, without any tangible results. The secretary of MACBAN in the state, Ibrahim Galma, described the security intervention in some areas as exacerbating criminality instead of addressing it.
When our reporter contacted the spokesperson of the Nigerian Army, Brigadier-General Onyema Nwachukwu, regarding these allegations, he emphasized that the Nigerian Army has a zero-tolerance policy for extortion or extortionists within its ranks. He pledged that any personnel caught engaging in such illicit acts would face severe disciplinary action. Nevertheless, specific information about the locations where soldiers were allegedly involved in extortion was requested, but no response was received.
Extortion of Farmers in Benue State
Farmers in Benue State also allege that they are victims of extortion by some soldiers who coerce them into paying substantial sums of money. In areas like Adaka and the surrounding communities of Benue, reported attacks have forced residents to flee, and visiting farmlands has become a perilous endeavor. Only the bravest among residents are willing to venture to their farmlands at dawn and depart before nightfall.
This precarious situation has compelled many residents to transition from farming to logging and firewood sales. Joshua Lorvihi, a resident of Adaka, shared his experience of being forced into the logging trade, as herders had destroyed his beans farm. He recounted how his employees were stopped by soldiers on their way back from the bush, with the soldiers demanding