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Communities in South-East groan, as herdsmen take over farmlands

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The destructive activities of rogue herdsmen on farms in communities in Igbo land are becoming worrisome and frightening.
File photo of herders and their cattle.

By Anayo Okoli, Vincent Ujumadu, Peter Okutu, Chimaobi Nwaiwu, Ikechukwu Odu & Chinonso Alozie

The destructive activities of rogue herdsmen on farms in communities in Igbo land are becoming worrisome and frightening.

They, with hordes of cattle, have been invading farmlands with reckless abandon and making a mess of the crops which the poor village farmers toiled to put in place. Sadly, in some cases, these killer herdsmen even violently attack and kill the farmers if they have the gut to question them.

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The evil activities are taking place in all parts of the South East: from Abia to Imo; from Anambra to Enugu and Ebonyi. The people have been crying especially in the face of the emphasis the Federal Government places on agriculture.

None of the herdsmen have been arrested and tried by the law enforcement agencies. Yet, the evil acts continue unabated.

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The matter has been of great concern to Igbo leaders. Just recently, the association South East Town Unions, ASETU, who actually operate from the rural communities where the evil acts are committed, raised alarm over the rise in the destructive activities of the herdsmen. The President-General of the association, Chief Emeka Diwe lamented what the rural farmers are going through in the hands of these herdsmen.

“Our people have died enough. We cried out when Ozuitem community in Bende area of Abia State was invaded and attacked by the herdsmen  and nobody did anything. People were slaughtered and property destroyed. A month later, another community in the same Abia State, Ndi Okereke Abam in Arochukwu council, was equally attacked by the herdsmen. Nothing was done.

“In early hours of April 6, 2019, the herdsmen attacked farmers’ settlement in Anambra West Council of Anambra State. They set the farm houses ablaze and killed the men and raped the women they captured, yet nobody came to our rescue.

Can we keep beating about the bush while our people are being taken to slaughterhouses day after day? What about the dastardly attack on Umuawa-Ibu community in Okigwe council area of Imo State. In all these cases, we cried to high heavens, petitioned here and there, and complained everywhere, yet the authorities never cared.

“In Enugu, on June 14, 2019, the same herdsmen attacked a commercial bus carrying traders, mainly women returning from the market along Agbani-Ugbawka road in Nkanu East council area and abducted three young women after they had robbed the traders. The internal outcry over these atrocities has become deafening. These herdsmen also butchered a whole family and a Catholic seminarian on apostolic work in Nkanu.

“The story is the same Ebonyi and Imo States. In  Imo State,  herdsmen have unleashed terror in Oguta, Ohaji-Egbema and Orlu as well as other parts of Igbo land. And recently, the killing of Ozoemena Iriaka from Umuekpu in Agwa community in the same Oguta council area was added in the list of casualties of these murderous herdsmen.

“Even the international community has rated these herdsmen as the fourth deadliest terror group in the world, yet the Nigerian authorities have kept mum.

“Despite these atrocious acts, the authorities have looked the other way, maybe to create a scenario that would elicit retaliation from so that they would criminalize and annihilate us and exonerate our predators. When citizens of Nigeria are slaughtered in cold blood and the authorities look the other way, it is a violation of those charters of peace.

“For almost a decade, our people have endured the agony of murder, rape and molestation in the hands of killer herdsmen, a minority group that appears to be sacred cows because they control all state apparatus and hence are unleashing violence on our people.

“Our people at the grassroots whose livelihoods depend almost entirely on their farmlands have had those farms ravaged by the herdsmen and their cattle. As I speak to you, there is hardly a single herdsman standing trial anywhere in Nigeria for these killings and atrocious acts; hardly can you find one in detention or even one being prosecuted. Our people now feel their lives do not matter anymore”, Diwe lamented.

Living in fear

Farmers in Ugbene Ajima community, Uzo-Uwani council area of Enugu State said they now live in fear due to incessant destructive activities of suspected herders on their crops as well as threat to their lives. A farmer from the community who gave his name as Edward Ugwu, said he lost over N500, 000 when herdsmen harvested his cassava to feed their cattle.

According to Ugwu, farmers are afraid to go to their farms in the community for fear of herders attack. He said there is fear of famine in the community as most farmers have left their farms for fear of attacks.

Another farmer, Regina Iggah said she has not recovered from the shock since she was attacked in her farm. Iggah said her crops worth over N800, 000 were destroyed by herdsmen who allegedly invaded her farm with their cattle even as she appealed to the state and local governments to come to her rescue.

The traditional ruler of the community, Igwe Romanus Eze confirmed that he had been receiving series of complaints from farmers over destruction of their crops by herdsmen. He said he and the council chairman, Chukwudi Nnadozie have been obeying the peace initiative of the state government to settle all farmers/herders issues amicably.

“The herdsmen problem is like a sucking mosquito on a man’s scrotum.If you hit it hard, you will severe the genitals. If you leave it there, it would suck your blood and invariably give you malaria. We have been advised by the governor to manage them peacefully.

“We normally engage the herdsmen in a peace talk and where they are culpable; we mandate them to pay for damages on people’s farms. Our forest guards and vigilante groups have been playing their roles to curtail these clashes”, the monarch said.

Strangely, some farmers equally alleged that certain persons collect money from the herders to allow them access into the community, an action that emboldens the herdsmen.

Lamentations in Anambra

THERE is hardly any community in Anambra that is not complaining about the negative activities of herdsmen. Although most Anambra communities were used to herdsmen who graze their cows essentially in places that were not cultivated, the resurgence of herdsmen began when the federal government muted the idea of establishing Fulani colonies in the heart of Igbo villages.

Most communities objected to it because of the peculiar nature of the Fulani who, they argued, once they are given a place to settle, would try to dominate the area and chase the original dwellers out. Following the refusal of most communities to willingly donate their lands for the establishment of the Fulani settlements, the herdsmen adopted another method, which was to forcefully enter the farms.

From Ayamelum to Awka North; from Ogbaru to Ihiala; from Orumba to Anambra East and West, the story of Fulani herdsmen is the same.

Stories abound that apart from destroying farmlands, the herdsmen have been accused of raping women and sometimes killing their victims. In Anambra State, for instance, there is no day that one could not hear of worrisome activities of Fulani herdsmen.

Last week,10 communities in Awka North local government area of lamented the destruction of their farmlands by herdsmen, which they said, had become a daily occurrence.

Former chairman of Awka North local government area, Chief Shedrack Anakwue said the action of herdsmen’s menace in the area had led to astronomical rise in the prices of agricultural produce which is the main source of income for his people.

“The herdsmen had left many families in pitiable situations as their source of livelihood, which is their farmlands, had been totally destroyed. The unfortunate thing is that the herdsmen alleged that they reached agreement with their host communities which allowed them to operate in any community as they liked.

“When you confront the herdsmen, they tell you that they have settled the leaders of the community. Our elders are not happy about the situation but the leadership of the community appears to have been settled by the herdsmen.”

President General of Ebenebe in Awka North, Mr. Paul Nnatuanya, lamented that the inordinate activities of Fulani herdsmen had become very worrisome, claiming that between September last year and now, farmers in the community had lost over N100 million to herdsmen.

“Herdsmen are destroying our farmlands with reckless abandon. All the towns in Awka North are not spared from their dastardly act. They even come to graze their cattle in people’s houses and when you tell them to move, they will be looking at you as if you are talking to the cows”, he said.

In the words of the Catholic Bishop of Awka Diocese in Anambra State, Most Rev Paulinus Ezeokafor,  the activities of herdsmen whose cattle destroy farmlands were undermining food production in the country, describing the killer herders as a big threat capable of increasing hunger in the country.

“We condemn the killing and harassment of innocent citizens in their farms in some agro communities across the country. Some of them are now scared of going to their farms to avoid being murdered by killer herders.

“We all know the economic implication of not having farm produce, which is that the prices of food items will increase and hunger will become the order of the day.  I call on the Federal Government to rise to the occasion and put a stop to all forms of killing of innocent citizens in the country, including those who go to farms to produce food for our people,” he said.

Igbo in Diaspora are also worried about the activities of herdsmen. The union said the killings of Igbo citizens by herdsmen had become routine and urged the governors of South-East to do something to end the ugly incidents.

To reduce the friction between the Fulani herdsmen and the communities, Governor Willie Obiano set up a joint security task force headed by the Commissioner of Police to ensure that the herders and their host communities live in harmony, Part of the agreement was that crops destroyed by the herdsmen should be assessed and paid for, just as the people should pay for cows lost in questionable circumstances.

With that arrangement, there has been peace in the various communities despite the increasing complaints by farmers on the activities of the herdsmen.

Also lamenting the situation, Bishop Henry Okeke of Mbamili Diocese of the Anglican Communion expressed worry over the alarming spate of killing by herdsmen and called on the Federal Government of Nigeria to step up action in securing the country.

Bishop Okeke said that Anambra West communities, predominately farmers are the food basket of the state and by extension providing food to neighboring states of Delta, particularly Asaba; Imo and Enugu, had their settlement attacked by herdsmen in January this year and left some people dead and others sustained injuries.

He particularly expressed fear over killings, attacks and sacking of communities by strangers pretending to be herdsmen while killing and destroying people’s farms, lamenting that the menace of killer herdsmen at the beginning of this year’s farming season affected the farming activities and would result to shortage of food supplies to Anambra and its neighboring states.

“Anambra West council area of Anambra State was one of the areas in State that have taken a big share of killer herdsmen attacks in recent times, particularly this year 2020; the farmers were attacked in their farm settlements and some lives were lost and they suffered the effects of the attack socially and economically.

The Bishop noted that “the primary responsibility of the government is to secure lives and properties of its citizens; when lives are secured, you talk of investments. If the government is serious about securing the country, they should arrest the bad security situation caused by killer herdsmen and other terrorist groups in the country”, Bishop Okeke said.

Also lamenting the situation, a youth leader in the area, Odikpo Madubueze named some of the attacked communities to include Ifite Anam, Mmiata Anam, Umudeza Ebegbu and Iyiora Anam as well as Umuikwu Anam, Nzam, Inom, and Onono.

“They were attacked by the herdsmen in January, the beginning of our farming season and seven people were killed while many sustained both gunshot and matches injuries. The youths were not happy that millions

of farm crops are being lost in terms of crops destroyed; lives are also lost. The attack by herdsmen on the communities was seen as an affront on the youths of Anambra West, but we were restrained by the Bishop Okeke who has always preached peaceful coexistence between the communities and the herdsmen.

“The planned revenge by angry youths was aborted by the Bishop Okeke, who swiftly notified the state government and the security agents who mobilized to the council area to maintain peace”, Madubeze said.

The traditional of Ifite Anam, Igwe Sylvester Udalor Nnose, said: “The herdsmen forcefully occupied their settlement in our communities without the traditional ruler and President and Chairmen of the communities’ consent, yet they were allowed to stay even after forcefully occupying our land and the only way to pay us back for our magnanimity was killing our people”.

Ebonyi

In Ebonyi State, the story is not different,  only that the Government has put some measures in place the broker peace between communities and herdsmen. According to the State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Hon. Cletus Ofoke, who heads the Committee on matters of herdsmen\farmers conflicts, the Committee has been proactive in tackling herders and farmers misunderstandings. He said there is no sacred cow as anybody found culpable would answer for his or her crime in line with laws of the State.

“We usually hold our Committee meetings once a month but in the case of an emergency, we usually reconvene. One of the measures that have assisted us in tackling this ugly trend is the strict enforcement of

the agreement we reached with Miyeti Allah in 2018. The Agreement is maintained.

“If for instance, a farmer kills a cow belonging to a herder, he or she will pay for it; also, if herders allow their cows to destroy crops belonging to a farmer, they will pay for it. What has also helped us is the regular meetings we hold to look into any emerging development, in order to forestall it.

“The Herders/Farmers Committee has been stepped down to the Communities, Development Centres, and councils to address issues. We don’t allow foreign herders to stay except they want to cross over to another State. When such wants to happen, we are contacted and they are escorted by Police. We are usually communicated through their leadership. So, we have an existing synergy between us and the herders. The recent herders/farmers clash in Onicha has been addressed and those involved have been arrested accordingly. There is no sacred cow”, Justice Ofoke said.

SEV learned that the recent herdsmen attack in Onicha council area, where an indigene of the State was alleged to have lost his life as a result of the clash between herdsmen and members of Ezube-Amankpuma village in Okawu community has been addressed.

During the recent incident in Onicha, the victim, Maduabuchi, was reportedly killed by suspected Fulani herdsmen and his body was found on along Onu Enuka road, after Ukaba Development Centre. A motorcycle belonging to the deceased was also taken away by his killers.

It was alleged that the herdsmen who were asked to leave the area by the villagers killed the deceased on their way out of the community.

It was alleged that the herdsmen had occupied a large farm land near Ukaba Development Centre before they were asked to leave. They were said to have been causing destruction in farmlands in the Community.

A community leader, Samuel Ugota said “last year, we did not use that land because they took it over. This year, as we were about to farm on the land, they came again with hundreds of cows. But we insisted they must leave; two weeks ago, the youths went and pursued the cows out of the land. They (herdsmen) invited the police. When the policemen came, we explained the issue to them, and urged them to plead with the herdsmen to leave our farmland.”

The State Police spokesperson, DSP Loveth Odah, confirmed the incident but noted that the Command was yet to unravel the circumstances surrounding the killing of the young man. She said the State Commissioner of Police, Philip Maku, had invited the people of the community to the Command where he urged them to cooperate with the Command to fish out the killers.

“We are aware of the killing of the young man. His motorcycle was also taken away by his killers. But we are not aware he was killed by herdsmen. The CP has ordered a thorough investigation into the matter to unravel the circumstances surrounding the killing, and bring the perpetrators to book”, Odah said.

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