■ Ex-corps member, others recount deadly encounter in Enugu
By SAM OTTI
LESS than three weeks after Eze Patrick Okechukwu passed out of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), death gave him a close kiss. Few days after he returned from Jigawa State, where he did his one year mandatory national service, armed herdsmen invaded his community, Nimbo in Uzo uwani LGA, Enugu State and chopped his body with a sword. Over 20 people died in the gruesome attack, which left scores of victims bedridden with gunshot and machete wounds.
Eze, a graduate of Geology and Mining from the Enugu State University (ESUT) was in his father’s house when the assailants walked in. Seeing them with machetes and guns, he dashed out of the house but they went after him into the bush. His struggle to escape was halted by a shrub that cut his two legs and threw him on the ground. His attackers drew their swords in fury, cutting his hands, head, legs and left him for dead.
When Sunday Sun visited him at the National Orthopaedic Hospital, Enugu, where he was referred for treatment, he lay in pains, wrapped in bandages all over his body. Looking frail and helpless, tears dropped from his eyes intermittently, as he nodded towards this reporter in greeting. He struggled to say a few words, biting his lips to suppress the pain from his aching wounds. With great difficulty, he said: “It was a horrible experience. I saw the face of death. They cut me like wood and left when they thought I had died.” Efforts to engage him in further conversation were not fruitful as he quietly closed his eyes in pain.
His mother and other relatives, who had been waiting in anxiety at the hospital, recounted that the assailants were armed with sophisticated weapons. “They almost killed my son. Only God saved him. He was chased into the bush where they overpowered him and descended on him with machetes on his head, hands, legs and back. It was at the same spot that they killed three persons, including a 70-year-old man. They thought my son was dead and left him. Later, my son was rescued and put in a wheelbarrow from the bush to the main road. He was rushed to Nsukka in a pool of blood,” she added.
It was gathered that the herdsmen spared women and children during the attack. One of the women that came face to face with the herdsmen told Sunday Sun that they ordered her back to her house, assuring her that they would not hurt women and children. She said the assailants numbered about 15, explaining that about five of them were herdsmen, while others looked robust.
A reliable source said the herdsmen went into the premises of St Marys Catholic Church, but when they saw that the people were mostly women, they vandalized the louvers and other itmes and left without touching the women.
A former councilor of Nimbo Ward 2 and his father were the first victims. The councilor and his old father were stabbed repeatedly with swords. The old man died on the spot but his son was rushed to the hospital, where he is responding to treatment.
Despite conflicting figures on the death toll, a community leader, Dr. George Ajogu, who spoke on behalf of the people of Ukpabi Nimbo at the village square, when Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi visited the area said 20 bodies were recovered in the bush last Monday. This death toll countered the six victims claimed by the Enugu State Police Command as those that lost their lives in the attack. The Commissioner of Police, Mr Nwodibo Ekechukwu also blamed hoodlums in the area for the attack.
Reacting to the incident, a former member of the House of Representatives in the area, Chief Paul Okwudili Eze, said the law abiding citizens of Uzo Uwani would rather prefer to die of hunger under the present excruciating economic condition they find themselves than to be butchered like animals on their own soil.
“The calamity unleashed on us by Fulani herdsmen has exceeded its elastic limit. They took over our entire farmland, destroying crops planted by peasant farmers, raping our women with impunity and killing our youths, who dared them. These crimes remain unpunished when reported to the police. These herdsmen have become outlaws carrying sophisticated weapons such as AK 47 rifles and the like,” he said.
The lawmaker, who was also a former local government chairman in the area, accused the armed herdsmen of masterminding the incessant robberies, kidnappings and other crimes that had gained notoriety in the area.
“The most painful thing about the recent massacre is that enough warning was given to the security agents in Enugu State before hand. The Federal Government must act quickly to bring an end to the menace of Fulani herdsmen in many parts of Nigeria, especially in Southern Nigeria. Let us not be forced to take laws into our own hands,” he warned.
The Nimbo Undergraduates and Graduates Association (NUGA) blamed the police for the security lapse that led to the bloody attack. The Secretary General, Comrade Anigbogu Godwin Ogbobe, who is also the Secretary General, Enugu State Coordinator of Special Wawa Ambassadors for Good Governance (SWAGG), in a statement, said he got the hint of the planned attack on Friday last week by noon and called some stakeholders in the state to alert them.
Part of the statement reads, “The Fulanis on Friday afternoon were boasting in Nasarawa State when they were about leaving for Enugu State, how they will deal with us. Unknown to them, somebody overheard them and alerted us. I got a call from Nasarawa warning me of the attack. I made calls desperately and the governor of Enugu dispatched security men immediately. A combined team of the military and police mounted roadblock at Obolo Afor for thorough stop and search. Some patrol vehicles were dispatched to my town. For reasons I cannot explain, early morning of Monday by 0400am, the DPO in my local government recalled the mobile policemen patrolling the community and not up to 30 minutes later, the herdsmen attacked. They entered from Kogi State through the bush.”
The association said the herdsmen mobilized over 200 men for the attack and wondered why the police failed to dispatch enough security in anticipation of countering their numbers.
“Why should the DPO recall his men at the location of this incident without first making arrangements for replacement? Why should the attack occur barely few minutes after the mobile policemen left? How am I sure that many of the herdsmen and their mercenaries from neighbouring African countries are not still in the bush possibly waiting for my people to start going to farm to be killed?” he wondered.
Irked by the security breach that led to the attack, members of Nimbo Youth movement (NYM) Onitsha had an emergency meeting on April 28, chaired by Mr Opel Okechukwu and demanded for the immediate sack of the Enugu State Commissioner of Police, Nwodibo Ekechukwu.
“We call for the immediate sack of the Enugu State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Nwodibo Ekechukwu, for his unprofessional statement concerning the Fulani herdsmen attack on our community in which he claimed that the attack was carried out by unidentified hoodlums. Such statement is completely unacceptable especially from such high profile security personnel. It is also on record that Nwodibo and his men failed to act appropriately when they were reliably informed of the impending attack. The death of innocent people could be attributed to their inaction. We have lost confidence in his ability to protect our people as the police commissioner in a state where he could not present a clear picture of the security situation. The commissioner also deliberately under estimated the casualty figure by saying that only six people were confirmed dead whereas more than 15 were already dead in the early hours after the attack. More corpses were later recovered in the bush bringing the number of the dead to more than 21,” the group said.
The group also pleaded with the Enugu State governor to consider those that were maimed by the assailants, especially those that had their wrists, hands and legs chopped off. Since they were mostly farmers that had turned amputees, government should support and rehabilitate them to start a new life, the group advised.
“We equally commend the effort of the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Solomon Arase, for not only reacting immediately to the incident but for making time to visit Nimbo community to see things for himself. He did this not minding the erroneous statement of the police commissioner. The planned divisional police station to be sited at Nkpologu near Nimbo is also a welcome development. We also want the federal government to rehabilitate the internally displaced person’s (IDPs) as a result of the vandalization of their homes.”