By Vincent Ujumadu
AWKA- IT has become a common sight in many rural communities in Igbo land to find small thatched houses built by herdsmen in the middle of farmlands. Initially, the villagers did not attach any meaning to these houses, but when they became clusters that took on the look of villages in the middle of their farms, there was a sense of heightened anxiety among the inhabitants.
Previously, herdsmen only took their cattle from such places as Amansea in Awka North Local Government Area of Anambra State and Ugwuoba in Oji River Local Government Area of Enugu State where they resort to bushes around for grazing and return later to their base. Buyers of cattle come from all parts of Igboland to make their purchases. However, in recent times, the herdsmen have formed colonies that look like permanent settlements in many communities and indigenes of such communities dare not challenge them. Those who tried to challenge them have had ugly stories to tell.
On daily basis, the herdsmen are seen on major roads with sophisticated weapons and all the complaints by the people that crops in their farms are constantly destroyed by the cattle, fall on deaf ears. Rather, the herdsmen appear to be claiming equal rights with the villagers over the farmlands and this is where the trouble lies.
Though many Igbo communities have been complaining to security operatives over the unhealthy development in their areas, nothing seems to be happening and the resultant effect is the mounting tension in many villages over the presence of herdsmen in their areas.
The Igbariam campus of the state –owned Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu University is not left out as authorities of the university complained sometime ago of nauseating activities of herdsmen in the university. A visit to the university showed that even during working hours, a large number of cattle are seen parading through the university and interfering with the free flow of traffic. The cows parade around buildings and disturb academic activities.
The vice chancellor of the university, Professor Fidelis Okafor had to convene a meeting over the matter, which helped to reduce the tension in the area.
At a recent meeting of the newly formed Igbo Improvement Union, IIU, in Awka, the issue dominated discussion with many people expressing anger over what is happening in their areas.
One of the contributors said: “We are living in great fear in my community. Before, the herdsmen were used to carrying bows and arrow as they guide their cattle, but these days, one finds them brandishing sophisticated weapons, including AK 47s used only by the military. Despite several meetings between the herdsmen and community leaders at the instance of security operatives, the situation has not changed.
“Rather, more people from the northern part of the country are joining the herdsmen and building more structures in my community. Of recent, cases of rape and armed robbery have increased in my area, despite the fact that we have an effective vigilante outfit in the town. Investigation by our people traced these vices to the herdsmen, but our people appear to be helpless because we do not know how else to handle the matter.”
South East Voice gathered that the issue would be tabled for discussion during a general meeting of IIU scheduled to take place in Umuahia on Saturday this week. Though the national secretary of IIU, Mr. Edozie Njoku said the main concern of the organization is the erosion devastating many communities in Igbo land, some of the delegates from the states say they would bring up the issue of the herdsmen for deliberation at the Umuahia meeting.