By Chidi Obineche
RIPPLES of the Monday, April 25th attack on the rural agrarian community of Ukpabi Nimbo in the Uzo- Uwani Local Government Area, LGA of Enugu state which reportedly left in its wake a staggering number of deaths, injuries and destructions peaked at the turn of the week. The condemnations came like sparks of fire, but like a lion jolted from a delirious slumber, the fight back has slowly and steadily mounted, resulting in a frenzy of protests, threats, and pre- cautionary measures. Happily, no backlash, or reprisal killings have occurred.
After days of seeming reluctance, President Muhammadu Buhari took the bulls by the horns by ordering heads of security agencies to take all necessary actions to rein in the rampaging herdsmen who have continued to wreak havoc on different communities across the country. The president while receiving catholic bishops of Nigeria said; “We are determined to secure all Nigerians and I have told the Inspector General of Police and other security agencies, in very strong terms to deal decisively with the attackers”. On the heels of this declaration, the Enugu state police commissioner, Mr Nwodibo Ekechukwu was posted out of the state for alleged lethargy and negligence of duty, before and during the attack. Rising to douse the ethnic tension which the attack triggered, the Sultan of Sokoto and head of the Muslim community in Nigeria, Alhaji Muhammed Sa’ad Abubakar 111 called for caution so that it will not snowball into a major ethno- religious crisis. He said: “Here in Sokoto, we will continue to do what is right; we will continue to be hospitable to everyone irrespective of what happens elsewhere. Other states should replicate what we do here and the ethnic tensions won’t split our country”. The admonition from the sultan and others seemed to have stirred more bile and angst in the hearts of the herdsmen. While the umbrella body for northern cattle breeders, Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association boasted that no one can stop them from grazing their cattle in the southern part of the country, northern governors warned commentators on the mayhem to desist from associating the name ‘ Fulani’ with the herdsmen. The apparent hardening of heart of the herdsmen spurred more vitriolic umbrages. Yoruba socio – political group, Afenifere, the Ijaw Youth Council, IYC joined the fray. Both groups which spoke through Chief Kehinde Arogbofa as Secretary General, and Mr Eric Omare described the boast as an invitation to anarchy, which they said, stemmed from the support they enjoy from President Buhari and Northern leaders. Former Aviation Minister Chief Femi- Fani Kayode warned that southerners might be forced to even the score of the killings of their kinsmen by the herdsmen. In a very caustic tone he said, “This madness and endless attempt to rationalize and justify it has to stop. Nigeria is already on the road to Kigali(Burundi)
“If they don’t stop the slaughter of Southerners and the stealing and pillaging of southern lands by their kinsmen, our people will be forced to retaliate and this country will burn and break. A word is enough for the wise.” First son of the lateChukwuemeka Odimegwu Ojukwu, Debe advised the people to resort to self help. He told Sunday Sun that “You can’t lie down in your house and people come there to kill you. I believe the time has come for self- help, because it is only self- help that can check this menace” Several other condemnations from groups and individuals poured like a deluge, stoking mass hysteria and tension. The mere condemnations and suing of peace soon crystallized into balls of actions. The Igbo nation, which saw the attack as a sore reminder of the ugly skirmishes of the past that led to a grueling bloodbath and civil war, swiftly moved to revive the dreaded Bakassi boys of the late 90’s as a standby militia to contain future attacks. The decision, it was learnt, was reached at the emergency Imeobi meeting of the apex Igbo socio- cultural group, Ohanaeze Ndigbo on May 1,2016, at Enugu. The communiqué released at the meeting underscored the porous security situation that led to the unfortunate attacks. It partly reads: “ Our people should learn and imbibe the culture of being ready to defend themselves legitimately at all times, and at all levels; at least to offer reasonable defense, in the event of any impromptu attack, as we, the Igbo, are vulnerable and are grossly endangered.
“ That the National Executive Council of Ohanaeze Ndi Igbo must set up, as a matter of urgency, a ‘ security and strategic endurance committee’, and a ‘central coordinating security sub- committee on town unions, vigilance groups and neighborhood watchers.”
Other pre-emptive measures announced by Ohanaeze include legislation by State Houses of Assembly in the Southeast on the imperative of restrictions on grazing land for the cattle rearers. Enugu State governor Chief Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi announced the reactivation of the Neighborhood Association and Watch groups law 2006 which provides for the establishment and operation of neighborhood watch associations in every community in the state.
He disclosed this at a meeting with traditional rulers and Presidents of town unions, where he doled out N100m initial seed money.
Anambra State went a step ahead to launch a helicopter for aerial surveillance of the activities of herdsmen in the state. The governor, Chief Wille Obiano, while addressing workers in Awka on May 1, assured the people that his administration had all it would take to prevent any attack by the herders. “There is routine helicopter surveillance across the borders of the state to ensure that any suspicious gathering of people (herdsmen) or curious movements across the borders are quickly picked up and analyzed by security experts”.
By Tuesday, May 2, the brewing cauldron had moved a notch higher. Several socio- cultural and militia groups in the southern part of the country declared their readiness to confront the Fulani herdsmen. Agbekoya gave the Federal Government a 14 day ultimatum to stop the incessant attacks on Yoruba land, even as it vowed to retaliate any attack on its members. According to the National Publicity Secretary of the group, Mr Olatunji Bandele , the group would “close down all markets in the south west, make sure that Fulani herdsmen do not enter any village in Yoruba land with their cows. And if they dare enter, they are doing it at their own risk.
“We have alerted Agbekoya south west warriors across Yoruba land to be battle ready in case the Fulani herdsmen do not heed our warning, because this thing has continued for the past four to five years now. We have other security measures we are keeping to ourselves” The deadline, according to him, started to read from Thursday April 28. Giving more hint on their battle readiness, he said “we are not bothered with whether they carry arms or not, we will deal with the Fulani herdsmen hands down. We have done it before. The Agbekoya fought a 14- month war with the military. That was in 1968/69. We have instructed our warriors. Anywhere they kill farmers again, we will move in” . Similarly, the leader of the separatist Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra, MASSOB, Mr Uchenna Madu lamented that Igbo people had been “talking and talking” while they watch their people being killed. He said it was time for “action”. He said: “The Fulani herdsmen are cowards. After the recent attacks, they ran away. If they mean business, let them wait for Ndigbo, and we will engage them, man- to- man. It will be demeaning to ask us if we have the capability to confront them.”
The Herdsmen waterloo
In the search for solutions to the menace, Ekiti state governor Ayo Fayose came up with a hilarious fangled twist on how to rout the herders without bayonets, bullets, cudgels and machetes. He advised the introduction of a toxic drug, game line in rivers and streams which will kill the cows instantly when they drink water. In the not distant past, fazed, and confused about how to get rid of Fulani herdsmen who were terrorizing their communities, women in Nekede and neighbouring Ihiagwa in Imo state dredged from their pot of wisdom and sent them packing . They met their waterloo when some women decided to stand up to the AK47 wielding Fulani herdsmen. The herders were having a free run in these farms surrounding the Federal University of Technology, Owerri, destroying crops, killing challengers and raping women. With their intimidating war arsenals, the women in these two communities convened a meeting on how to checkmate them.
They came up with the ingenious idea that grazing animals cannot stand the smell or hotness of chili-hot- pepper. They experimented on it by spreading red – hot dried chili-pepper around their farmlands. In the run up, they tasked themselves by asking every woman in the community to donate one’ derica’ cup of grounded pepper each, and got a huge drum of it. They organized themselves in groups and went out at night spreading the pepper across all farms in their area and waited in hiding. When the marauders showed up with their cows the next day, the cows started falling and running amok. 15 cows dropped dead in an instant. The invaders fled, and never returned to the communities till this day.
Beyond the Wailing Wall
The seething rage steamed with protest marches and demonstrations. On Wednesday March 3, hundreds of students under the aegis of Federation of Association of Nsukka students, FANS and South- east Students Association protested at the University town of Nsukka with bold placards declaring that “ We don’t want Fulani herdsmen in South east again.”
In Enugu, a coalition of women groups staged a similar protest. In far away London, the United Kingdom, Nigerians in the Diaspora from different countries took a protest march to Westminster parliament. Fiery Ex Biafra warlord Col Joe Achuzia, (air raid) Retd, told Sunday Sun solemnly that “this issue is much more serious than people are looking at it.” He declined further comments. The South east senate caucus met and called for an emergency South east/ South/south Summit, comprising Governors, National and state Assembly lawmakers, traditional rulers, socio- cultural organizations and other stakeholders immediately. Spokesman of the group, Enyinnaya Abaribe, representing Abia South, described the unfolding situation as “scary”, which requires a co-ordinated response because of the “ominous silence and apparent indifference of the presidency.
“We can no longer sit and watch, while our people are daily slaughtered like fowls without even attracting the cursory routine condemnation by the presidency. It is disheartening what is happening, and somebody has to take responsibility.
Somebody has to be the institution of the presidency of the federal republic of Nigeria,” he explained. Ebonyi state governor Engr Dave Umahi disclosed the creation of grazing routes in the state, after a meeting with heads of security agencies and traditional rulers. He explained:
“These grazing routes are lands that are not used for farming, where the herdsmen would be allowed to use in feeding their animals. They would not be allowed to stray into farmlands where we cultivate farm crops. Traditional rulers are enjoined to map out the routes and inform the herdsmen”. He tasked security agents to search the herdsmen for arms. Correspondingly, the Nigerian Army intercepted 92 armed herdsmen along the Abuja- Keffi road. Another group of 56 armed herdsmen were arrested at the Dantata check point between Kuje and the Abuja airport. Across the length and breadth of the nation, the gyre is widening for the hawks of doom and the doves of peace.