By Anayo Okoli, Vincent Ujumadu, Peter Okutu, Chimaobi Nwaiwu, Ikechukwu Odu & Chinonso Alozie
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 an 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.
Igbos 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 Bishop Okeke who has always preached peaceful coexistence between the communities and the herdsmen.
“The planned revenge by angry youths was aborted by 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”.