By Chinonso Alozie, Owerri
Imo communities are now relying on prayers to solve their challenges with herdsmen in the state. Some communities, especially farmers said they were completely tired of lack of response to their predicament with herdsmen. Victims of herdsmen activities were of the view that no action has been taken to end the issue of damages on farms in Imo State which was the reason herdsmen have continued destroying their farms.
For this reason, an Igbo group, Coalition of South East Youth Leaders, COSEYL, led by Goodluck Ibem was forced to give the herdsmen operating within the premises of the Federal University of Technology, Owerri, FUTO, a 24-hour ultimatum to vacate the area.
The ultimatum came after the Vice Chancellor of FUTO, Francis Eze, raised alarm that the institution’s farms were destroyed by the herdsmen and even the students were harassed by the herders.
FUTO’s outcry was one of many calls for help as a result of reported herdsmen unwanted activities in and around the Imo communities.
Similar stories were also told in some local government areas as Okigwe, Owerri North, Owerri West, Ohaji/Egbema, Mbaitoli, to mention but a few.
The victims said they have prayed time without number but the authorities have shown no interest in their plights.
An elderly man, who gave his name as Chief Sabastin Eze, from Okigwe Local Government area said: “It has become a waste of time to call those in power for help when these herdsmen come with their trouble.You call and you get no answer. At a point, they started treating the matter with insensitivity. Let me tell you the truth, the only person protecting us now is God in heaven and that is who we know.
“When these things happen, we have some elders with wisdom who move first to meet with the herders. We refrain from sending our youths in most cases to avoid squabbles with the herdsmen.”
However, the latest drama played out between an Igbo group, COSEYL, and the Imo State government.
COSEYL’s 24 hours order to the herdsmen within FUTO’s premises read: “We condemn in strong terms, the incursion of Federal University of Technology Owerri (FUTO) by Fulani herders who have taken over the school environment as its new settlement for grazing and habitation with their goats and cattle.
“We warn them to leave the University environment within 24 hours or risk being arrested and prosecuted. The South East Governors Forum has before now banned the movement of cattle by foot. What are they still doing there? The owners of those cattles should move them out of the university premises now.
“A university environment is a serene premises for reading and other educational activities. It is never a place for cattle grazing or a settlement for pastoralists.It is an aberration to hear that a university’s academic environment has been taken over by herdsmen and their cattles.
“The most worrisome aspect of the entire scenario is that students, mainly the female ones find it very difficult to move around the school premises for fear of being attacked or raped by herdsmen.
“The large number of these cattle frightens the students and make it very difficult for them to go out to read at night. They now live in fear in an environment they are meant to be free to pursue their academics. Evening reading and preparatory classes are now a bygone issue in the school, thanks to the pastoralists.
“When we complain of students not being serious or committed to their studies, the present situation in FUTO is exactly what can led to it. It is better the security agencies solve this problem now before things get out of hand.
“One cannot study or learn effectively in an environment where you are scared of attack by herdsmen and their cattle. It retards the academic performance of the students who are scared of being attacked or possibly raped by the pastoralists. The remembrance of their presence in the school premises makes the heart of the students jump into their stomach. It is proper to make hays while the sun is shining. The immediate evacuation of the pastoralists from the FUTO environment now is very important for the security of lives and properties in the university community.
“His Excellency , Governor Emeka Ihedioha who is the Chief Security Officer of the state should urgently make arrangements with security agencies to evacuate the herdsmen from the school environment to avoid any future clash with the students.”
But what looks like a counter statetement came from the Imo State government through the Chief Press Secretary to the governor, Chibuike Onyeukwu.
The statement read: “The attention of the Government of Imo State has been drawn to a report on some news media, credited to a group, which identified itself as Coalition of South East Youth Leaders, giving herdsmen in the state 24 hours to quit.The group, led by one Goodluck Ibem relied on an alarm allegedly raised by the management of the Federal University of Technology, Owerri, accusing herdsmen of destroying their farm lands and crops, among other concerns.
“The Government of Imo State, under the leadership of Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha CON, hereby dissociates itself and entire good people of the state from the said ultimatum to herdsmen in the state.
“Imo State Government is embarrassed by the development and has taken steps to prevent breakdown of law and order in the state.While efforts are being made to ensure that concerns raised by the management of the Federal University of Technology, Owerri are addressed, let it be on record that the Governor Emeka Ihedioha – led administration shall not tolerate a situation where individuals take the laws into their hands.
“For the avoidance of doubt, citizens of Imo State are very peaceful, hospitable and have always enjoyed cordial relationship with neighbours and strangers in the state.
“Imolites are at peace with residents and have no axe to grind with anyone living or doing business in the state, as long as such transactions do not in any way violate the laws of the land or constitute public nuisance. The general public is therefore advised to disregard the report and go about their normal businesses without fear or favour.”