By Mike Ebonugwo, with reports from Chinenyeh Ozor, Nsukka
AGAINST every expectation, Enugu State has lately been featuring consistently in the news bordering on the invasion of its communities by suspected herdsmen leading to wanton loss of lives and the destruction of farm lands and other properties.
Monday’s invasion of Ukpabi, Nimbo in Uzo-Uwani Local Government Area of Enugu State by over 500 herdsmen which left about 50 persons dead has once again brought to the fore the tragic reality that death lurks in all farming communities in the state as long as sporadic and sometimes sustained attacks by herdsmen remain unchecked.
Incidentally, this is not the first time that a community in Uzo-Uwani would be invaded by suspected Fulani herdsmen.
Farming communities within the local government which shares boundary with Benue State have in recent years become scenes of bloody clashes between herdsmen and farmers.
Indeed as far back as October 2012, there had been reports of herdsmen launching unprovoked attacks against farmers and residents which sometimes resulted into retaliatory attacks.
Dead in a pool of blood
A particular case in point was a certain 23-year-old Ogbonna Eze, a commercial motorcyclist from Opi Community in Nsukka Local Government Area of the state, who was allegedly attacked by Fulani herdsmen and left for dead in a pool of blood.
He survived but lost an ear in the process. It was another case of blood, tears and sorrow when some herdsmen had on August 1, 2015 reportedly hacked one Ozo Samuel Okoro after they invaded Eziugwobi village in Abbi community of Nsukka in Uzo-Uwani Local Government Area.
He was said to have been murdered in the presence of his two wives at his hut in the farm around 2pm on the fateful day.
The development had prompted a prominent son of Abbi community, Dr. Mike Ajougwu (SAN), to organise a delegation which he led to visit cattle owners living at Odoru community in Igala-Mela Local Government Area, Kogi State to complain about the repeated atrocities committed by the herdsmen.
Obviously, the Dr Ajougwu-led delegation did not achieve its desired objective for a cessation of hostilities by the herdsmen as the attacks reportedly continued.
For instance, last February, people of Abbi community in Uzo-Uwani Local Government Area were once again thrown into mourning following the killing of their loved ones and the destruction of their property after the community was invaded by suspected Fulani herdsmen. Brutally killed during the attack were a brother and sister, Fidelis and Mercy Okeja, while 19 members of the community were declared missing.
The Fulani herdsmen reportedly invaded the peace-loving Abbi community in the wee hours of the fateful day, attacked and killed 45-year-old Fidelis, a polygamist and father of many children, and 50-year-old Mercy, a widow and mother of four children.
They also burnt down seven houses and some motorcycles parked there, and looted provision shops.
Irked by the tragic development, Dr Ajougwu had risen to the occasion by immediately dispatching a petition to the Commissioner of Police, Enugu State on the killing dated August 3, 2015.
In the petition, he made copious reference to a meeting which he initiated in the search for peace which held at Olu-Odoru Haruna Opala palace before the recent attack.
The meeting had in attendance the Olu, the DPO Odoru, and all owners of cattle. He pointed out in the petition that the Fulani herdsmen had in all their previous attacks raped women and girls, in addition to stealing yams, grains and other crops from farms with impunity.
He informed that a case of murder was reported to Adani Police Station and Uzo-Uwani local government council. He prayed the Police Commissioner to summon the Enugu State chairman of the association of cattle rearers, Alhaji Aliyu Abubakar, together with his Odoru counterparts, Alhaji Aruto Daura and Alhaji Haruna, to assist the Police in its investigations of major crimes.
Dr Ajougwu had appealed to the Police boss to use his good offices to properly investigate the matter and bring the culprits to book in the interest of justice and peace, and to avoid break down of law and order in the community and beyond.
During the said June 30, 2015 meeting at Onu-Odoru palace, the Fulani heads had pledged to co-operate with Abbi farmers by not allowing their cattle to destroy farms. But days after, the farmers had reason to complain that rather than abate, the spate of murders, rape, destruction of farms, looting and burning of houses and property allegedly perpetrated by herdsmen intensified.
It was also reported that Dr Ajougwu had proposed then that as a last resort to finding peace and averting further violence, that the Area commander, Nsukka Police Command, should as a matter of utmost urgency convene a meeting of the traditional rulers of Nimbo, Abbi, Nrobo, Okpuje, Nkpunano, Anuka and Okutu communities together with DPOs of Adani,Nsukka, Okpuje and Odoru in Kogi State.
Also to attend the meeting were the paramount chief of Odoru, the Onu Odoru, sub-heads and chiefs of Avurugo, Nokwo, Ekwuloko and the Fulani heads along Abbi and Odoru borders.
Reports showed that both the meetings and proposals came to nought, while Fulani herdsmen continued their attacks, killings and destruction in the localities of Abbi, Nimbo, Nrobo, Adani and Nkpologwu communites.
Dr Ajougwu in his letter for a security meeting dated October 2, 2015 and addressed to the Area Commander noted that the people and country would hold the police inaction responsible in the event of escalation of avoidable calamity.
Robbing and kidnapping
Unfortunately, efforts of Dr Ajougwu to broker peace between the communities and Fulani herdsmen were in futility. Instead he was said to have received several threatening phone calls to produce within a day a Fulani allegedly held hostage by Anuka people.
The traditional ruler of Abbi community reacts:
Reacting to the development, the traditional ruler of Abbi community, Eze Fidelis Igwe, complained that his community had over the years suffered untold hardship in the hands of Fulani herdsmen who he accused of maiming and gang-raping “our women at farmlands” in addition to robbing and kidnapping his people or stealing and destroying cash crops in the community.
He said, “The killing of Fidelis and Mercy, including the 19 people that are still missing, was one of the worst and most tragic things to happen to us in the recent past.”
This is the fourth time Fulani herdsmen invaded our community in a period of three years. The losses, including the buildings and other things destroyed, are too much for us to bear.
The remaining people of the community have now taken refuge in neigbouring communities due to fear of another invasion by the Fulani herdsmen who do not give signs before striking.
They have fled their ancestral home because of repeated attacks of the Fulani herdsmen. We have made several appeals to the Nigeria Police Force, the Uzo-Uwani local government council and Enugu State government for the Fulani herdsmen to leave our community but nothing has happened to that effect. We are still appealing to the appropriate authorities to address the issues of Fulani herdsmen in Abbi community.
Excesses of herdsmen
The community cannot continue to watch Fulani herdsmen take over their ancestral home, rape women, kidnap and rob people of cash and other valuables.”
Nimbo traditional ruler Igwe John Akoh reacts:
The traditional of Nimbo autonomous community in Uzo-Uwani local government area, Igwe John Akoh, a veteran journalist and one time chief press secretary to the then Anambra State military governor also condemned the unwarranted attacks and killings by the Fulani herdsmen. The traditional ruler said that the case of Abbi community was most worrisome.
He noted that communities in the locality cannot continue to watch while their brothers and sisters are being murdered or maimed by Fulani herdsmen.
“We are appealing to the appropriate authorities in the country to promulgate a law to check the excesses of herdsmen in Uzo-Uwani in particular and the South East in general,” he pleaded.
If the scale of destruction, especially the death toll, of the recent attack by a 500-strong herdsmen is anything to go by, then the appeal by the traditional to the appropriate authorities to act may have fallen on deaf ears.
And with the Federal Government yet to take a forthright decision on how to contain the dangerous trend, it remains to be seen whether the appropriate authorities will act in good time before the situation gets completely out of control.