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Female Farmers in Oyo Face Threats of Nature, Sexual Assault

By Juliet Buna

Note: The names of the survivors have been altered in this report for their security.

“You met us all at home because we are afraid to go to our farms for fear of being harassed by suspected Bororos”

Some of the women in Kedo Salami Community, Ogbomosho
“We get scared each time we come across them on the way to the farm. If we talk, they will bring out a cutlass…, “Mrs Ayankanmi, an aged widow farmer in her mid-70s with a face deeply etched with the lines of time, told this journalist during a recent visit to Kedo Salami, a suburb in Oriire Local Government Area of Ogbomosho in Oyo State, Southwest, Nigeria.

For Mrs Ayankanmi and many other female farmers in Kedo Salami, going to the farm where they earn their living is now a death sentence.

Out of fear that marauding herders would attack her and her fellow women farmers, they stayed at home on this sunny Saturday afternoon on May 4th, 2024 in the serene landscapes of Kedo Salami 1, an agrarian settlement in Ogbomosho, Oyo State Southwest Nigeria, where the rhythm of life beats in harmony with the land.

Yet, amidst the tranquil beauty of this rural haven, a dark spectre looms over the harrowing reality of sexual harassment plaguing Mrs Ayankanmi and other women farmers who till the soil with unwavering dedication.

“We get scared each time we come across them on the way to the farm. If we talk, they will bring out a cutlass and they always try to rape us not minding our old age. There is nothing to eat unless our children send money to us from the town, “ Mrs Ayangbemi narrates.

The threat of harassment and assault by suspected herders, is ever-present, forcing them to stay at home. They have resigned to fate because they believe their voice will never be heard even if they cry out for help. The hope of getting justice is elusive to them.

Mrs Ayankanmi shared her story with this journalist, recounting the fear that grips her and her fellow women farmers as they venture to their farms.

One of such stories that gripped the community and still sent chills down their spine involved Dorcas, Mrs Ayankami’s co-wife, who was allegedly macheted by suspected herders about a decade ago. According to Mrs Ayankanmi, her co-wife Dorcas, an aged woman in her mid-70s was harvesting pepper on her farm when the herders attempted to rape her, about a decade ago. Although she escaped with severe machete wounds, the scare continued to remind them of the ugly incident. They claimed the police failed to take action, detaining Mrs Ayankanmi’s husband instead of going after the assailants.

She said, “Dorcas and I married the same husband. She went to the farm alone that day, harvesting pepper. She got tired after a while and decided to relax. They came and tried to rape her, she ran for her life and fell at a point. The man started cutting her with a cutlass until a car passing by stopped after hearing the woman shouting for help. The Fulani left when he noticed someone was coming to help her. The car driver could not carry her out of the place to avoid being implicated.

“The woman (Dorcas) struggled out to the main road before she could see someone who brought her to the village. Since then, she has not had balanced health.”

One of the affected women in Kedo Salami Community: Photo Credit: Juliet Buna

Increasing number of GBV in Nigeria
Amidst Nigeria’s skyrocketing food inflation crisis, this report explores the sad reality of the women who harvest the food we eat, and how sexual assault has become a hidden price that often comes with their job.

Many undocumented female farmworkers in rural communities are afraid to speak out for fear of not getting justice. While the precise extent of sexual violence and harassment against female farmers remains elusive, this reporter highlights a few cases that managed to make news headlines.

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Women in Nigeria continue to face alarming rates of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), with over 27,000 cases reported in just five states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) between 2020 and 2023.

This disturbing trend is underscored by the Minister of Women Affairs, Uju Kennedy-Ohanenye, who revealed that a staggering 25,000 GBV cases were recorded nationwide in just one month, from September 3 to October 2023.

According to the Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS) 2018, one in four women (24.9%) aged 15-49 has experienced physical or sexual violence in Nigeria. Furthermore, the survey found that:

Photo Source: Juliet Buna

Reports of rape of women on farmland in Nigeria from 2021-2024:
– May 2023: 80-year-old woman farmer was raped and killed by suspected hoodlums on her farm in Ondo State.
– In July 2023, The Punch Newspaper reported that a 53-year-old woman farmer was raped and killed on her farm in Abia State, with six suspects interrogated and handed over to the police.
– April 2021: Three female farmers were brutally attacked with machetes and attempted to be raped by six suspected herdsmen in Ekiti State.
– August 2021: Female farmers in Iseyin, Oyo State, reported cases of rape by suspected herdsmen, with one suspect, Stephen John, arrested and confessed to raping old women on their farms.

Photo Source: Juliet Buna

Cows roaming in Kedo Salami Community: Source: Juliet Buna

We lost our husband who tried to get justice for my co-wife – Mrs Ayankanmi
According to Mrs Ayankanmi, her co-wife was taken to the police station, but the police said there was nothing they could do about the matter. She said, “We took her to the Ikoyi police station in Ogbomosho, Oyo State, but the police were saying all sorts of rubbish. Asking ‘Why did you go to them’ when she was on her farm? She was later taken to Ikoyi General Hospital.

“My husband went to the police station, asking the police if they would watch the suspect kill his wife, and the police replied, asking if she had been killed. My husband was detained for days, but thank God for his sibling, who is a lawyer, who came from the city and got him bailed out with the other two who were detained with him.”

Mrs Ayankanmi said the stress of getting justice for her co-worker and getting her treated affected the health of her husband, who lost his life in the process. “My husband later died, and there was nothing to eat because we couldn’t go to the farm to work.”

A decade of recurring horrific experience
Mrs Ayankanmi’s experience is not an isolated one. Many women farmers in Kedo Salami face similar ordeals, often without recourse to justice.

The exact scope of sexual violence and harassment against female farmers is impossible to quantify because there is no data, but the stories of these women paint a stark picture.

Mrs Agboola, another resident of the Kedo Salami community, says she is scarred by the past traumatic experience of Mrs Ayankanmi, which has haunted her to this day. She hesitates to go to her farm, crippled by the fear of a recurrence. Lamenting the lack of accessible healthcare facilities in the vicinity, she resigns herself to the confines of her home, her pleas for intervention falling on deaf ears.
She said, “We go to the nearest community with motorcycles to get treatment. I am not feeling fine; there’s no hospital to go to. I am afraid of going to the farm because of the Fulani herders. If I go to the farm and I am attacked by the Fulanis, there’s no hospital to treat me here. If we don’t go to town, there’s no way we can get treatment. We don’t have light, and we don’t have a network either. If it were to be the rainy season, you might not even be able to come here. And now Fulani herders are a threat to us; where do we go from here?.”

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Beyond the lack of a functional health center, the community contends with a dire shortage of basic amenities, including proper roads, electricity, potable water, and reliable communication networks.

Residents lament the dearth of infrastructure, highlighting the solitary primary school that doubles as a makeshift church and the sole hub for educational pursuits.

Faced with limited options, many are compelled to journey to neighboring towns for further education, underscoring the community’s isolation from educational opportunities.

The main artery leading to the village is marred by unpaved, narrow roads prone to flooding and degradation, rendering them virtually impassable during the rainy season. The treacherous route poses significant risks, particularly for individuals vulnerable to attacks or in need of urgent medical attention.

Another resident, Mrs Ogunlana echoes the sentiments of her fellow farmers; she recounts the relentless onslaught of harassment that has driven many from their ancestral lands. She said, “Their trouble is too much. See how everywhere is quiet; people have left this community; we can’t go to our farms.

If we go to the farms, we will be harassed. We don’t have peace without peace. I can’t go to the farm alone; I am too old. If I am attacked, how will I run? We are pleading with authorities to help us.“

We don’t allow our wives to go to farm alone, Saliu Kareem and Sunday Akinola, residents of Kedo Salami village in Oriire Local Government Area of Ogbomosho in Oyo State, corroborated the ordeal of the women of Kedo Salami. They spoke about the terror they and their families face daily at the hands of Fulani herdsmen.

The men expressed their frustration and fear as they struggle to protect their women and farms from the constant threats and attacks.

According to Saliu Kareem, the herdsmen have been wreaking havoc on their farms, destroying crops, and threatening the women who dare to venture out to work.

“We can’t let our wives go to the farm alone because of the Bororos. They will come at night with their cows and eat all our plants. We have to go with them to avoid being raped or attacked,” he said.
Sunday Akinola echoed similar sentiments, stating that his wife can’t go to the farm without him due to the threat posed by the suspected Fulani herdsmen.

“Those people are wicked; they have matched people around us, and they threaten men with their cutlasses when they see that we are helpless. All we want is for the government to come to our rescue.

We are not after the Fulani, but their cows are responsible for the high cost of food because farmers can’t go to farms anymore,” he said.
Sunday Akinola

The men alleged that they have reported the incidents to the police at Ikoyi police station and the new Soun of Ogbomosho, Oba Gandi, but have received no response or assistance.

Women’s Resilience

In the faces of these women, there’s defiance etched into every furrowed brow and calloused hand. Armed with courage and solidarity, they refuse to be silenced, banding together to demand justice and accountability.

On February 9, 2024, Mrs Ayankanmi and some of the respondents in this report and other women farmers from Kedo Arigbeyo, Kedo Salami, and Mosunmaje communities protested at the palace of the Soun of Ogbomosho, His Imperial Majesty, Oba Ghandi Afolabi Olaoye Orumogege III.

The women, armed with courage and solidarity, demanded justice and accountability for the alleged atrocities committed by Fulani herders in their communities.

The protesters, who held leaves and chanted songs in Yoruba, expressed their frustration and desperation, saying, “We can’t take these attacks any longer. Bororo herders graze their cattle with our corn and other farm produce. They rape our women on the farm, and as a result, we can’t go to our farms again, and we are hungry.”

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Deborah Olayiwola, one of the women who spearheaded the protest, expressed frustration at the lack of justice, emphasizing the dire situation faced by the community. “Our trip to Ogbomosho was born out of desperation.

The constant threat the Bororos and their cattle poses has rendered our farms inaccessible. Farming is our livelihood, our only means of sustenance,” she lamented. “Yet, despite the combined efforts of three villages to seek intervention from the Soun of Ogbomoso, we remain in the dark. We’ve received no word since we visited the palace.”

Climate Change Worsens Herder-Farmer Conflicts in Nigeria, Says Professor
A climatologist at Rivers State University, Professor Precious Ede attributed the escalating herder-farmer conflicts in Nigeria to climate change. According to Ede, the reduction in water bodies and grazing lands in the Savannah and Sahel regions has forced herders to migrate farther south, leading to encroachment on farmlands and clashes with farmers.

In a Telephone interview with this journalist, Ede emphasized that the movement of cows and other animals through farmlands can lead to soil erosion and degradation, further exacerbating the crisis. Women, who constitute a significant proportion of farmers in Nigeria, are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of these conflicts, including sexual assaults and physical harm.

He said, “When you graze intensely you remove vegetation and when you remove vegetation, the soil becomes susceptible to erosion through wind or rain. That is one aspect, under that circumstance, soil quality is impaired.”

Sexual harassment affects women – Gender Advocate

The Executive Director of Choice Solution Welfare Initiative International, Oluwakemi Ademola Aremu, has emphasized the physical, mental, and psychological sexual assault takes on survivors. “When a woman is sexually assaulted, her soul is broken, leaving her vulnerable and unable to cope with the trauma,” she said.

Aremu in an interview with this Journalist in Ibadan, Oyo State highlighted the long-term effects of sexual assault, including anxiety, distress, hypertension, and cardiovascular diseases, which can significantly shorten a person’s lifespan.
She said, “When women are raped they suffer physical injury and mental injury and you know when I think about the soul the innermost part of you are broken then you cannot keep anything out again so the main challenge can be psychological you know you no longer sleep well it definitely will shorten lives it creates some cardiovascular diseases hypertension most especially because now you cannot rest part of the psychological will be anxiety every night distress almost cortisol everywhere in your blood.”

Executive Director of Choice Solution Welfare Initiative International, Oluwakemi Ademola Aremu

Authorities Speak

Despite repeated attempts through phone calls and text messages, there was no response from the Oyo State Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Olasunkanmi Olaleye.

However, the Media Officer of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development Adesoji Olusegun stated that the Ministry had not been informed about the matter.

The Police Public Relations Officer, Adewale Osifeso, disclosed that the issue had not reached the police headquarters.

He advised community members to report to the Area Command in their locality, assuring that the Area Command would escalate the matter to the State headquarters for further review.

 

Editor’s Note: The names of the survivors have been altered in this report for their security.

“This story is part of the African Women in Media (AWiM) ‘Reporting Violence Against Women and Girls’ project, supported by the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism.”

 

Email: bunajuliet23@gmail.com



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