C-River: A mistrust so deep

on   /   in Special Report 12:26 am   /   Comments

By Emmanuel Una, Calabar

On  March 24, 2014, a farmer in  Bebi  in Obanlikwu local government area of Cross River State shot dead a Fulani herdsman for  allowing his cattle to graze at  his cassava farm.

The farmer was said to have met  the herdsman right in his farm and demanded to know why he allowed cattle to  eat the leaves of his cassava.

This  reportedly angered the Fulani  man who brought  out a gun and attempted   to shoot at the  farmer.  However, as things turned out, the farmer  dispossessed the Fulani man of the gun and in turn shot  him at close range.

The  herdsman,  mortally wounded,  was rushed to the Obanlikwu General  Hospital, Busi, some five kilometres away, but  did   not survive the gun shot ; he  died  hours later.

That is the most recent incident  of communal intolerance between the natives in Cross River and Fulani herdsmen who are found virtually in all parts of the state.

This incident is, however, small when compared to another in  July 2012 when a village,  Ntan Obu, in Odukpani local government area  of the state was attacked by suspected  Fulani herdsmen allegedly in collusion  with villagers from  neighbouring Ikpanya, Akwa Ibom  State which left over 50 people killed and almost all residential homes set ablaze.

What led to the crisis was the reported lease of the flood plains, a rich grassland belonging to the Ntan Obu people to one Alhaji Bature to graze his cattle by their Ikpanya neighbours  which did not  go down well with the Ntan Obu people who preferred  to use the rich soil  for planting of crops.

Angered by the refusal of the Ntan Obu people to allow them the use of the land, the  suspected Fulani herdsmen, allegedly  in collaboration with the Ikpanya villagers,  invaded Ntan Obu on the night of July 16, 2012  and killed  scores of people  including the chief of the community.

In other parts of the state like Ogoja, Yala, Ukele, Bekwara, Obudu, Boki and Akamkpa,  herdsmen are avoided like the plaque. Many of the communities  in the state, fearful of the negative impact the presence of the herdsmen and their cattle is capable of inflicting on their land and crops, usually send them away before they have any opportunity of settling down.

For instance,  in early 2013, over 200 Fulani herdsmen and their families, who reportedly   fled  communal crisis in Taraba State, descended on Obanlikwu but  the  communities refused them the use of their land.

They  asked the herdsmen to relocate and when they refused, the leaders of the community appealed to the Cross River State governor, Senator Liyel  Imoke, to prevail on them to leave their land.  Imoke  had to  provide them with  relief materials and assisted them   to return to where they came from.

The  mistrust  between the Cross River natives  and herdsmen  could be understood from the speech of Chief Linus Okom, Ada Bekwara, recently,  when Imoke visited the northern senatorial district of the state to inaugurate the PDP  caucus there.

Okom, who is the chairman of the caucus, singled out the havoc suspected Fulani herdsmen and their cattle  were inflicting on the land and crops in Ogoja  area and appealed to the governor to seeks ways of asking the herdsmen to leave.

Imoke did not  respond  but the look of alarm on his face while  Okom narrated the ordeal of farmers to him showed that he was really concerned about the situation.

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