By Chinonso Alozie, Owerri
Umuowa Ibu community in Okigwe Local Government Area of Imo State, said they cannot cultivate and harvest their crops due to fear of attacks by Fulani herdsmen.
Not long ago, South-East Voice reported that Umuowa Ibu, and about 10 other communities were said to be finding it difficult to carry out farming activities in their own land.
This led to a protest in Owerri by a cross section of elders from the area.
Why Umuowa Ibu community is said to be a peculiar case, was as a result of the story of abduction of toddlers in the community, reportedly started in 2015.
With this, if the Imo Police Command led by Mr. Chris Ezike, fails to nip in the bud, the issue of threats posed by Fulani herdsmen in this community and other parts of Imo State, that means Umuowa Ibu may be facing double tragedy.
The reports of abduction of children in the said community was contained in a petition signed by Mazi Nelson Okoronkwo, Mr. Chukwu Vin Okorie, Mrs. Helen Akazie among others.
Narrating their ugly experiences, the report said: “It is with hearts full of sorrow and pains that we, the entire people of Umuowa -Ibu community in Okigwe LGA, wish to bring to your knowledge acts of kidnapping of our children, which has become an annual event in our community.
“This is sin against God and humanity. It started in the year 2015, with a year and three months old baby of the family of Mr. Edwin Okorie of Umuorsu village.
“In 2016, this community again, witnessed and experienced another disappearance of a young man by name, Mr. Ekene Odoemena. He was aged 50 years.
“In 2017, precisely, on the 14th day of December, another one happened. This time, it was the turn of one Master Chisom Nnadi, about three years and eight months old.
“The boy was in the midst of other children playing when he was taken away in the afternoon of that fateful day.”
Confirming the incident and the threats by herdsmen in Umuowa Ibu community, Mazi Nelson Okoronkwo, lamented: “Yes, they destroyed my cassava farms and other farms of our people.
“The other day, I went to ask them why and they tried to eliminate me and I ran away.”
According to him, the herders said that, “if we like we should go to the police, the police is their own and that the government is also their own so whatever we like, we should do.
“My people are not happy. We are hungry. How can somebody suffer to cultivate in his land and when the time comes to harvest the crops, Fulani herdsmen will go and destroy the whole thing?”
Reacting, the National President of Igbo National Council, Mr. Chilos Godsent, said: “We feel very sad when we hear that their presence is a threat to any community. On many occasions, we tried to help many communities put up a mechanism for conflict management.
“There is something we want some communities to understand and that is early warning signals. If they begin to get early warning signals, there is need to constitute a committee to liaise with the herdsmen and their leadership so that they can call to order, those herdsmen because majority of who you call herdsmen do not understand any other language except their indigenous language.
“So there is need for communities to have this early warning committee to do their job so thatconflicts can be prevented.”
Concerning the report that the community can’t access their farmlands as a result of fear of Fulani herdsmen, he said: “What we normally encourage any community that does not have the capacity to defend themselves or mitigate the threats posed by Fulani herdsmen in their area is to organise a media conference, bring it to the court of social jurisprudence, write to Civil Defence and Police, so that they will not deny being aware of the situation.
“In one of the cases we handled in Umuoma in Ihitte Uboma Local Government Area of Imo State, the cattle owners agreed to pay damages caused by the herdsmen. They also agreed that the cattle herders should leave the location. Through that process, the crisis was managed.
“If they keep it to themselves, the outside world will not understand that their community is under threat or under siege.”
On what is expected from the security agencies, he advised that “it will be proper for the security agents to act without waste of time once they sense threats or abnormal movement of cattle rearers.
“We also encourage communities to immediately alert the police, by sending them a very strong petition, so that it can be documented. With this, even the securitymen would not deny being properly informed.”
On the way forward, Godsent said: “I think community leaders should make contact with the leadership of the Partners for Peace in the Niger, I know they have experts in this area.
“So we can use our network to also reach out to the authorities to withdraw the cattle from the community.
“There are organisations that are empowered to mediate, build peace and resolve conflicts. They can intervene immediately to mitigate the conflict before it degenerates into a violent conflict. “The pragmatic approach that must be followed must be linked to the withdrawal of the cattle from the community.
“Most times, our experience shows that communication module becomes an impediment so, the next thing is to reach out to civil society organisations. This will help reach the various authorities faster. They can also bring in other actors; if the community uses force, we have seen the consequences, the herdsmen will run away, go and reinforce and return to attack the community.”