By Bolaji O. Akinyemi.
The headline of news published online by The Punch Newspaper on the 12th of August 2023 drew my attention to a new conflict between animals (hippopotamus) and farmers in Gombe State. My interest was sparked by the older conflict of herders and farmers in the Country which was felt more in the North East arguably than in any other zone.
Nature cannot be excused as the direct cause of the conflict, though there is possible remote advantage being taken of religion, tribe, and politics which aggravate the problem. Its complication is the lack of human capacity to manage the resource that nature has graciously bestowed on us as a Country.
If herders are responsible for the invasion of farms by herds, who should we hold responsible for that of hippopotamuses?
Punch reported that farmers pay hunters monthly to repel hippopotamus attacks in Gombe State.
Farmers in Difa community, in the Yamaltu/Deba Local Government Area of Gombe State on Friday expressed concerns over continued attacks by hippopotamuses ravaging their farmlands.
The farmers said the incessant attacks exposed them to losses and threatened the food security effort of the government.
A retired civil servant and farmer from the community, Ali Umaru, said the yearly impact of hippo attacks on farmlands in their community had become unbearable and “extremely frustrating”
Umaru said the animals had found comfort in the community because some parts of the community were on the bank of a river and just two kilometres away from the Dadin Kowa dam.
He said the animals which came in large numbers were fond of encroaching on their farmlands to eat and destroy crops planted by farmers, especially during the dry season.
“They (hippopotamuses) come in the night mostly in a group of 10 to eat our rice, okro, watermelon, and others and retire from our farm by 6am and go back to their hiding places.
“This is very painful because the damage is pushing farmers into poverty and reducing the food that should have been sold to humans.
”The menace is reducing efforts at ensuring food security because farmers who cultivated 50 hectares may end up harvesting only 20 hectares, losing 30 hectares in some cases,” he told the News Agency of Nigeria on Friday.
Another farmer, Mrs Lois Joshua, said, ”Last year, the hippos ate three hectares out of the 50 I cultivated and they normally come close to harvest and soon we will be harvesting and many of us are very nervous.”
NAN quoted another farmer, Amina Nuhu, as saying that farmers in the community had resorted to paying N20,000 monthly to hire youths to guard their farmland, especially at night by chasing the animals from their farms using torchlights.
Reacting, the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Husbandry, Gombe State, Ibrahim Yakubu, said, “This is the first time I am hearing of hippopotamus attacks on farmlands.
Ibrahim Yakubu’s statement was an open confession, it was the first time the officer who should be the hope of farmers at solving the problems was hearing of it!
“You know a hippopotamus is a wildlife, so they can write to the Ministry of Environment and we can investigate, else we will not act on the farmers’ complaints”.
His revelation that they cannot act except the farmers themselves lodge their complaints to the Ministry of the Environment is a confirmation of our faulty federal structure and bureaucratic bottlenecks at processing public information!
Such news on an issue of global interest bothering on conservation of nature with specificity on protection of an endangered specie on the headline of The Punch Newspaper sourced from or outsourced to the News Agency of Nigeria should be picked and treated by relevant Government Agencies urgently!
The Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Environment, Abubakar Hassan, appealed to the farmers to be patient as the government was doing its best to resolve the issues.
He also urged them not to harm the animals because they were endangered species.
Gombe State Government should take up the challenge of calling the attention of relevant Global Interests in wildlife conservation to the plight of hippopotamus and human conflict in the state before it will degenerate.
There are two types of hippopotamus, the Pygmy Hippopotamus and the common hippopotamus. The latter is found in Sub-Saharan grass lands with permanent fresh water access and the former, in African wetland forests.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature classifies the common hippopotamus as “vulnerable” meaning it is facing a high risk of extinction in the wild!
There may be as few as 115,000 adult hippopotamus remaining in the wild in Africa today! How many out of these can be found in Gombe is the figure the State Government should provide to receive global interest and assistance!
Hippopotamus has an average body length of 15 ft and an average body weight of 1100kg. An Adult hippopotamus consumes 32 Kilogram of vegetation daily!
Can Gombe State afford to pay farmers in the affected areas for their crops and take records of daily consumption to know how many hippopotamus may be in its territory?
Specifics are necessary when applying for wild life conservation funding. The world is waiting for Gombe State!
Dr. Bolaji O Akinyemi is an Apostle and Nation Builder, Convener Apostolic Round Table, ART. Also the BOT Chairman Project Victory Call Initiative, AKA, PVC-Naija.