By Emma Anya
on May 3, 2016, I got an early morning message from a friend and professional colleague based in Chicago, United States. The message from Ben read: “Emma is the story crediting your boss as having said that Fulani herdsmen would not leave your state true? If he did, tell him it is not in the best interest of the Igbo.”
Immediately, I went online to read the reports before responding. “Ben, I think you didn’t take your time to read through the report. I believe you were carried away by the headlines.” Ben was not the only one that fell for the headlines crafted by my colleagues in the newsrooms, some readers did and were riled by Governor Dave Umahi’s position on herdsmen.
One of such headlines that drew the most caustic reaction from some readers read: We don’t want Fulani herdsmen to leave our land-Umahi. Going by the tension over the massacre of over 40 people by cattle rustlers in Ukpabi-Nimbo, Enugu State penultimate week, one could not but align with the angst expressed by such readers via social media platforms.
But the question really is “Did Governor David Umahi say “We don’t want Fulani herdsmen to leave our land ?” The answer is No.
Like a statesman imbued with a lot of wisdom that he is, Gov. David Nweze Umahi informed members of the Hausa and Fulani communities in the state during a meeting at the ICC, Abakaliki, that grazing routes would be created for their cattle.
This is what the governor said: “We shall come up with community-based committee on how to handle herdsmen in the state. Where such committee cannot handle the matter or even if they have handled the matter, they will report it to the LG chairman, then the LG chairman will report to the state committee and then state committee will report to the CP and the CP will report to the governor and the State Security Council. “We believe that with this level of interaction, chains of command and responsibilities, that tension will not arise and we will live in peace with one another. “We hear that some herdsmen move into states with arms and we have directed that all herdsmen entering our state must be disarmed. Those who are not armed can pass through the grazing routes that we will create to their destinations.
“ I also want people to realise that we have Hausa and Fulani people that have lived for over 20 to 50 years in our state rearing cattle and living in peace with our people. We will not chase such law-abiding people away from our land.”
In talking about grazing routes, he was aware that Ebonyi, like many other states in Southern Nigeria , was also witnessing the influx of new Fulani pastoralists who are looking for alternative areas of tending to their cattle owing to the challenges in Nigeria’s Savannah Belt. Such pastoralists, he believes must be carefully monitored because majority of them, as they move from state to state, wreak havoc on farmlands and rape innocent girls and women.. For these reasons, Governor Umahi directed security agencies to ensure that on the spot checks were conducted on herdsmen passing through our state.
There is also a caveat to the passage: While the armed among the herdsmen must be pushed back, those found not a threat must ensure that their cows do not destroy farmlands while passing through. The Governor also believes that the onus is on the state to protect the herdsmen while transiting through Ebonyi. He therefore warned traditional rulers that they would be held liable if any cow belonging to herdsman was killed or injured in their domain.
Those who went on social media, especially Facebook, to ignorantly attack Governor Umahi, did not know that at the end of the meeting, the Fulani leaders in the state, Ardo Ibrahim and Ardo Bello, described him as a ‘wise father’.
Ebonyi State, being highly accommodating, has had a relationship dating back to decades with the Hausa/Fulani.
Many Hausa/Fulani have lived in the state doing many businesses, including cattle rearing, without rancour with their host communities. Such “clean Hausa/ Fulani,” have every right to continue to co-habit with Ebonyians. They therefore cannot be asked to exit the state.
Nigerians should learn to sift the chaff from wheat. We must not always allow anger to overwhelm our thinking faculty especially at a time of crisis like the one created by the Nimbo killings. Our people, especially the Igbo, need to thread cautiously on the issue of herdsmen since we are also nomadic in nature, especially when it comes to commerce. Those calling for retaliation against herdsmen and their eviction from Igboland need to moderate their outbursts. We must be careful not to do any silly thing that could further endanger the lives and business of our people in the North. A columnist, Churchill Okonkwo, in a piece after the Nimbo massacre warned that “the different reactions to the herdsmen attack from an ethnic point of view is the biggest problem which will not bring solution.”
Another columnist, Omotayo Yusus wrote ,“That’s what governance and citizenship calls for. As I conclude this, I just heard that the Ebonyi State Government (in consultation with communities) has offered to provide grazing routes (where there is no farm) and make same known to herdsmen. “Way to go Ebonyi.”
There are good tidings from both the South-East governors and other Igbo leaders on the issue of herdsmen. There are also positive signs from President Muhammadu Buhari on handling the rampaging herdsmen. Rising from a meeting in Enugu on May 2, the South-East leaders and governors, including Umahi, said they had resolved to take stock of the loses in Nimbo with the hope of determining the immediate and remote causes of the massacre.
•Anya is Chief Press Secretary to