■ Leave our land, natives demand ■ We’ve nowhere to go, say herdsmen
By Enyeribe Ejiogu (Lagos), Geoffrey Anyanwu (Awka), Jeff Amechi Agbodo (Onitsha), Petrus Obi (Enugu), Chuks Onuoha (Umuahia), George Onyejiuwa (Owerri), Emmanuel Uzor (Abakaliki) and Okey Sampson (Aba)
For the people of the Southeast, the presence of Fulani herdsmen, who had severally attacked communities, destroyed farmlands, raped women and generally unleashed mayhem across the length and breadth of the geopolitical zone, now seems like a handshake taken beyond the elbow.
When the people look across the zone, what they see is a carpet of blood of their kinsmen and women killed in the attacks by herdsmen, the recurring clashes and hundreds of maimed individuals. This horrible experience is the driving force for the growing clamour for the herdsmen to leave the zone for good.
Many years ago, Fulani herdsmen only passed through the forest areas in the Southeast as they took their cattle for grazing. But as time passed, they began to set up tents in the bushes close to the farmlands, where the people cultivate their crops.
Clashes soon began to occur between the natives and the herdsmen who usually occupied farmlands without permission, which led to clashes. Today, the rumble of discontent is growing as Sunday Sun investigations found out.
In Anambra State, Fulani herdsmen have about seven settlements spread across the state, but when they first settled there could not be ascertained. They were said not to have ever sought permission from the people before occupying the forests adjacent to farmlands.
When the leader of the Fulani in Anambra State and Zonal Chairman (South-Eastern Nigeria) of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, Alhaji Gidado Sadiq, spoke with Sunday Sun, he claimed that some of his kinsmen had settled in the state before the Nigerian civil war.
Sadiq explained: “The communities where our people sojourn in Anambra cannot be easily listed like this because they are many. But there are places where our people are settled with their families. We have about three settlements in Agu Awka, two at Umunkiti, one at Oba and one at Nteje. These are the places where our people have settled or camped in Anambra State, but they graze their cattle in other communities, not only where they have settled.
“You know there is dry and rainy seasons and the place where you graze cattle in dry season cannot be the place you graze in rainy season. In dry season, the cattle migrate from anywhere to swampy areas like Anambra East, Ayamelum and other places, but during rainy season they are around Awka North, Igbariam, Nteje, Umunya, sometimes Orumba North and South.
“Anambra is just like every other place in Nigeria; when the Fulanis come, most of time they stay in the forest where they will set up a tent. It is when they set up the tent that the owner of the land would come and question why they are there without permission and they will negotiate. Some have lived here up to 30 to 40 years. There is one man, Alhaji Idris, he has been living here before the war.”
He added: “They have good cordial relationship with their host communities. But you know the Fulanis are rearing cattle and Anambra people are farmers. So, sometimes this problem of farming and grazing will cause hatred between the two parties.
“Sometimes the cattle will stray into the farm and destroy crops and the herdsman will escape. The farmer would blame the cattle; sometimes, bad elements in the host communities would simply attack and kill the herdsman’s cattle because they destroyed crops, and such act would cause a clash.
“But thank God that Governor Willie Obiano has been able to overcome this by constituting a committee to manage the relationship between the farmers and herdsmen in the state. Any time a farm is destroyed, the owner would report to the traditional ruler of his community who has access to the committee at the Government House. When he gives us the information, the committee would then set up a sub-committee that would inspect the farm within 24 hours and if the cattle destroyed the farm, the owner of the herd would pay compensation to the farmer. Same thing happens if a farmer kills the herdsmen’s cattle. “We have told the herdsmen not to take laws into their hands but to report to us and we will take it to the committee. Because of the proactive approach of the Governor, there has not been any major clash.
“But before this government there were clashes; so many farms were destroyed and so many cows were killed and people were killed also. Even last time the Governor intervened when people were maimed, cattle killed and farms destroyed. Umumbo people, who claimed that their farms were destroyed, killed a Fulani man. But the governor intervened to force both sides to pay for what they destroyed and peace returned,” he said.
However, on whether his people would want to leave the communities, Sadiq said: “How can my people want to leave the communities? They want to live with the communities because to be frank; anyone who had lived here for sometime will not want to go. Also, we made it a rule that anyone coming into the state must alert us so that we confirm him and ensure that he is made to fall in line and respect the laws of the land.” Corroborating what Sadiq said, a native and one of the community leaders of Awka, whose village owns the land at Agu-Awka where the herdsmen reside, but who pleaded for anonymity said: “The place where they are living used to be a very big forest that no one went into for years. By the time they were discovered there, they had lived there for some time. If you go there now, the place is being developed, and I am sure their sojourn there will not be long again.”
Some communities in Anambra East such as Aguleri Otu, Mkpunando and Eziagulu Otu have vowed that the herdsmen would no longer be welcome in their area to graze their cattle due to the frequent destruction of their farms and threats to their lives by herders in the area.
Last year, Sunday Sun learnt, all the crops in their farmlands were completely destroyed by cattle owned by herdsmen. People in the communities said that when they confronted the herdsmen after their cattle destroyed their farms they threatened to deal with them; so they want them to leave because of the fear of the unknown. The traditional rulers and leaders of the communities had after their meeting last month petitioned Governor Obiano and the security agencies to warn the herdsmen not to come close to their communities this dry season to avoid a bloody clash, insisting that they would not tolerate cattle grazing on their land this dry season.
The traditional ruler of Mkpunando, Igwe Alex A. Edozieuno and his counterpart, Igwe Udorji Ikegbunam of Eziagulu Otu, said their people had resolved never to allow the herdsmen to return to their land.
“We agreed that we are no longer ready to live in perpetual fear of the herdsmen or condone unwarranted destruction of our crops hence the decision not to allow the Fulani herdsmen graze on our lands as from this season.
“The Igwes and the entire communities in Enugwu-Otu, Eziagulu-Otu and Mkpunando, therefore, for the interest of peace call on the Anambra State government and all relevant security agencies to warn the Fulani herdsmen to steer clear of our lands from this dry season.
“We will not take it lightly if we see any cow, cattle or herdsmen attempt to disregard this all important warning and come to our lands,” they warned.
Edozieuno lamented that his people who are predominantly farmers now have to buy foodstuff in the market because the cattle of the herdsmen had eaten up what they planted in their farms.
They said that what was more disturbing and infuriating to them was the fact that women from the communities had been severally raped while men who resisted the herdsmen were attacked. “Each time the herdsmen come with their cattle, they chase away farmers from their farmland so that their cattle can graze freely,” Edozieuno said.
But the leader of the Fulani in the community, Alhaji Aruna Musa denied any threat to the lives of the people of the community as alleged, saying that although their cattle had destroyed the people’s crops, they paid compensation to the community. “Since we started grazing in Anambra East communities over the past five years, we have not had any problem with them until recently when they said we should not come to their area anymore because our cattle destroyed their crops. We have been settling such cases through paying some money to those that their farms were destroyed,” Musa said.
Another Fulani leader in Oba Ofelemiri, Alhaji Sani Abubakar, said the herdsmen had not had any problem with the communities where they rear their cattle, saying they always guide their cows out of people’s farms to avoid destroying them. He said that their cattle graze in the bushes and do not encroach on farmlands in the community.
But, the President General of Iyiowa Odekpe community, Chief Agozie Okoye, said that the herdsmen recently invaded their community with their cows, destroying their crops, farmland and economic trees, which would have led to a bloody clash in the community.
He disclosed that it was the swift intervention of the Commander of the Naval Base, Captain M.Y Dahiru that saved the situation as his men immediately responded to a phone call and chased the herdsmen out of Odekpe community.
“On arrival of the naval personnel at the scene, the herdsmen abandoned their cattle and fled and they chased them. Why must herdsmen be that wicked to damage peoples’ farms? I need to see their leaders because I don’t want them here since they don’t know how to control their cattle,” Dahiru had said.
The horrific attack on the people of Nimbo, a border town in Uzo-Uwani area of Enugu State, by heavily armed Fulani herdsmen in April 2016 is still very fresh in the minds of the people of the Southeast. In that incident, seven villages – Ekwuru, Nimbo-Ngwoko, Ugwuijoro, Ebor, Enugu-Nimbo, Umuome and Ugwuachara were invaded, and scores of the natives massacred. In the aftermath of that terrible attack, the continued co-existence of the natives with herdsmen in communities across the Southeast has become a hot issue.
Again, the subsequent attack on Atakwu community in Nkanu West Local Government Area, during which two persons, including a Catholic Seminarian, were killed, did not also help matters as communities in Enugu State made strident calls for the herdsmen to leave their communities.
Looking at the way the Fulani had live in the area for years, Mr Smatts Celestine Aguba, a native of Nimbo told Sunday Sun why his people want the Fulani to leave the community. “When I was growing up I used to see them when they killed bush-meat and give out some to our people coming from the farms; they would be washing in our streams, we would come to greet them and pass. Even then there were cases where the cattle encroached on farms but it wasn’t much of an issue and was easily handled.
“But today, things have changed and with the level of brutality they unleash on our people, we can no longer tolerate them; it’s time for them to go; we no longer want them around. Since I was born, I have never witnessed or heard about such level of carnage in our area. Nimbo is a place that has hosted and accommodated strangers over the years, but today, the invasion by the herdsmen has caused many people to flee the community.
“We are predominantly farmers but we can no longer go to the farms for fear and the most fertile portions of our lands are located far away from the villages. The threats from the herdsmen have made us abandon the farms because they would rape women and shoot people in the farms; my father is one of the richest farmers in the community, but today he has nothing because he doesn’t go to the farms any longer. I don’t think there is one person from Nimbo who still wants the Fulani herdsmen to remain a day longer in the community,” Aguba said.
Also his kinsman, Comrade Godwin Anigbogu, President, Nimbo Undergraduate and Graduate Association, said: “They have been here for so many years; 11 years ago, sometime in 2005, they killed one young farmer in his farm but they came to plead and the issue was laid to rest. After that, they weren’t so violent even though they chased our people from the farm about five years ago. It wasn’t made an issue until the recent invasion where they massacred our people.
“We don’t want them in anyway; we want our place to be used as farming area because we have very large and fertile land and we have river. So, we don’t want Fulani herdsmen in any way; our community can feed the entire South not only the Southeast because our soil is fertile and fruitful. But we can’t get to these farms because they are located near the boundaries with Kogi. In fact, my brother, if you are from Nimbo you will be crying; they dealt with us. They should go completely; no agreement. Enugu State government should promulgate a law; we have been telling the House of Assembly but they have not done that.”
Another victim of recent herdsmen attack, and native of Atakwu community, Aniagu Fidelis Okafor said: “Initially we were not living with them permanently; they used to come during the dry season, but when the rains start they would leave and return to the north. We are good hosts and always kind to strangers; and in those early days we didn’t have issues with them because they weren’t destroying our crops. But as time went on, they started changing; they raped our women, harassed and beat up our people in their farms and destroyed our crops. The attack on a family in Ndiagu Atakwu where they killed a seminarian and almost wiped out a family was the last straw that broke the carmel’s back. Yet after that incident, they have not shown any remorse; no condolence or show of regrets or apology.
“Today, it is believed that they have fled our community, but we know they are still there. If you go there late in the evening or at night you will see them. The only difference is that they have moved further into the bush; and that is why our people can now do some farm work. Our people don’t want them any longer; it’s best they go.”
However, the herdsmen themselves have a different view about their continued stay in the Enugu communities. Leaders of the Fulani community in Enugu State do not see their leaving as an option having spent all their lives in the state.
Secretary of the Fulani Community in the state, Bala Ardo, who resides at Akwuke community said: “For about 20 years, the Fulani cattlemen settled in Akwuke. Herdsmen do not reside in a place for a long time. Akwuke is one of the areas you see herdsmen settle for a long time. Our people normally migrate from one community to another depending on the season. Within these 20 years, there has not been any major problem, crisis or bloodshed.
“Herdsmen have lived in Enugu State for upwards of 35 to 40 years; we move from one place to another depending on the season. If we had thought of leaving this part of the world we would have left a long time ago. But for somebody that has stayed for this period of years you know it is a place he has adopted; he has put down roots and wouldn’t want to be forced out of such community.”
Similarly, chairman of the Fulani Community in Enugu State, Ardo Sa’idu Baso recalled how he came to Euugu at the age of 30, saying that he has nowhere to go to after all these years. He said all his children were born in Enugu, adding that he does not know any other home.
The leaders of the Fulani community praised the efforts of Enugu State Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi whom they said had made indefatigable efforts to ensure that peace exists in the communities in the aftermath of the gruesome incidents in Nimbo and Atakwu communities.
In Abia State, herdsmen reside mainly in Ndi Okereke Abam in Arochukwu Local Government Area and Ogboko in Ozuitem in Bende Local Government Area. In these two communities, the herdsmen are known to have done more harm than good, even beyond the imagination of their host communities. None among those who spoke to Sunday Sun could give the history of how the herdsmen came to live with them. They could only say that they woke up one day to see them. In a show of magnanimity, a well-known trait of the Igbo man, they accepted and started living with them. They, however, said that things took a new turn when news about the harassment and raping of their women and destruction of farms by cattle started flying all over the place.
Last month, no fewer than five persons from Ndi Okereke Abam in Ovukwu autonomous community were hospitalised following the injuries they sustained from bullet wounds and machete cuts in a clash with the Fulani herdsmen. Though no death was reported, one person who was allegedly shot was said to have narrowly escaped the bullet that grazed his chest region.
President General of the town union, Chief Chukwuma Egbuta Okubi, who narrated the incident, said the herdsmen led their cattle into the farmland of the natives, destroying the crops.
According to him, the matter was made worse when the herdsmen started uprooting cassavas and yams for the cattle to eat.
His words: “They left the grasses their cattle normally graze on to destroy the crops, which is our only source of livelihood. When we asked them to leave the community after an altercation on the same matter, they left initially but came back to promise that they would not destroy the crops and were living peacefully with them until that Friday afternoon when one of our men visited his rice farm with his family members to carry home harvested rice.
“To his surprise, the herdsmen had led their cattle to the heap of harvested rice and they were feeding on them. His plea to the herdsmen to take the herd of cattle away from the rice harvest fell on deaf ears as they rather drew their machete and dealt several cuts on the man.
“Members of the man’s family escaped and raised the alarm in the community, which drew the attention of the youths. When the youths got to the scene, the herdsmen began shooting at them, leaving six fatally wounded.”
Okubi explained also that the timely arrival of the state’s Commissioner of Police, Mr Leye Oyebade and the team of policemen from Arochukwu led by the DPO, the OC of Ozu Abam police station, saved the community from more casualties.
Barely two weeks after that ugly incident, on November 30, another group of herdsmen invaded Ogboko in Ozuitem community in Bende Local Government Area, destroying crops and maiming the natives.
One of the victims, 40-year-old Sunday Oru, a father of seven, whose finger was chopped off, spoke with Sunday Sun from his hospital bed. He said the herdsmen “threatened to conquer and occupy the place if we asked them to leave, boasting that this is one Nigeria.”
Secretary to the Abia State Government (SSG), Dr Eme Okoro, a native of the community where the attack took place, confirmed the incident.
His words: “I called the Assistant Inspector General of Police and Zonal Commander to inform him of plans to invade the community. He promised to send the Commissioner of Police. I cannot tell what may have been the handicap of the police. The herdsmen are now behaving as if the Southeast is a conquered territory. The Fulani herdsmen should know that crops are as important to us as their own cattle are to them. Now, Ozuitem people have lost their means of livelihood, all the women who are okra farmers have lost their harvest.”
Gariki, situated along the Okigwe/ Enugu Expressway in Okigwe Local Government Area of Imo State is presently the only place where the Fulani herdsmen are living in the state as no other community in the state has allowed them to settle among them.
Before now, Amaeze Ogii autonomous community in Okigwe was one of the communities in Okigwe where the Fulani herdsmen and their families were allowed to settle as far back as 1985. But the relationship was strained by the attempted murder of a young lady of the community by some Fulani herdsmen, who wanted to rape her when she went to fetch water at the local stream.
As she was resisting the attempt, her assailants gave her a vicious machete cut that almost severed her head. She survived the cruel ordeal but now carries the permanent disfigurement that came with the attack.
It was learnt that the Fulani herdsmen who were expelled from the community after the ugly incident relocated to Gariki, along the Okigwe/Enugu Expressway in Okigwe.
However, the community was alarmed in October last year when women who had gone to farm hurriedly returned home to report that Fulani herdsmen and their families had sneaked into the community. The new arrivals cleared and occupied a large portion of the community’s land and built makeshift tents without the knowledge of the community.
The chairman of the community, Chief Rufus Dike, said the illegal occupation of the community’s land by Fulani herdsmen and their families last year without the knowledge and approval of the people generated fear and anxiety amongst the natives of the community, noting that the community promptly asked them to leave immediately.
With the 1985 incident still fresh in his mind, Dike said: “It was as result of that ugly incident that we chased out the Fulani herdsmen from our community and seven of them who were apprehended by the community were handed over to the police. So, we don’t want the Fulani herdsmen in our community because they are very aggressive and wicked.”
Dike pointed out that the Fulani herdsmen have been grazing their cattle on the cassava farms of members of the community, making the women to abandon their farms for fear of them.
Similarly, the women leader of the community, Mrs Theresa Onwukwe said the majority of the women have also refused to go to the stream or into the bush to fetch firewood.
“Until they left our community in 1985, we could not send our little daughters to fetch firewood or even go to the stream to fetch water. We thank God that they left peacefully after the matter was reported to the police who asked them to leave our land because they never got permission from the community in the first instance,” she said.
But last month, about 200 Fulani herdsmen and members of their families from Enugu State relocated to the popular Gariki Regional Cattle market in Okigwe along the Okigwe/Enugu Expressway.
The Fulani leader in the area, Alhaji Bala Adamu, said that their brothers and sisters relocated to Okigwe following the order of the Enugu State government whose intention was to make use of the land they were occupying.
Early last year, the herdsmen attacked the Umuekwune village in Owerri-West Council Area of Imo State, and the youths of the community tried to chase away the cattle that were grazing on their farmlands. But the herdsmen who were armed with AK47 rifles fired shots at the youths, injuring several of them.
It took the quick intervention of the Imo Police Command to forestall a reprisal attack from the community who vowed to deal with any herdsman found within their community.
Again, six months ago, herdsmen had allegedly threatened to invade the Irete community also in Owerri-West on the allegation that the members of the community had killed and ate their cows in the past.
Eze Ethelbert Ekwelibe, the traditional ruler of Irete autonomous community had lamented that the Fulani herdsmen, who were mostly armed with AK47 and other dangerous weapons, had always been in the habit of grazing their cattle on his people’s farms, saying they resorted to violence when they were resisted.
“We have made it abundantly clear to the Hausa community in the state, the state government and the security agencies to tell the Fulani herdsmen to steer clear from Irete community because the people will not fold their arms to watch the herdsmen graze their cattle in people’s farmlands in the name of rearing cattle. We don’t want to experience the kind of things that happened at Nimbo, Enugu State, and Agatu in Benue State to happen here,” he said.
In Ebonyi State, the people of Mgbom Ugwulangwu community in Ohaozara Local Government Area and Ishiagu Community in Ivo Local Government Area of the state have been living in fear of the herdsmen.
The traditional Ruler of Ishiagu, Eze Moses Ngene, said the relative peace between the natives and herdsmen had been destroyed by the recent developments leading to the destruction of over 70 hectares of their farmland.
Also, the people of Mgbo Ugulangwu in Ohaozara Local Government Area of the state have been witnessing an uneasy relationship with the Fulani herdsmen.
Chief Eze Joseph of Mgbom Ugwulangwu said: “I am afraid that any moment from now, we may witness an unpleasant thing with the way cattle are destroying our farmlands. The people are very angry over this and I have been calming them down. But they have run out of patience; they said they are ready for a showdown with the herdsmen. They have refused to listen to me and I am afraid there may be serious crisis in this area the way our crops are destroyed.
“The worst part is that these herdsmen are usually armed with rifles and cutlasses each time they move around this area. They are armed to the teeth as if they know the people will confront them because of their nefarious activities. Our women no longer go to farm for fear of being raped or attacked.”
What the constitution says
Weighing in on the earnest desire of people of the Southeast to see Fulani herdsmen leave the area on account of the atrocities allegedly committed by them, Lagos based legal practitioner and chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Chief Pat Anyadubalu, opined that Fulani herdsmen who kill, maim or kidnap members of the host community or anybody have broken the law. He noted that such people would enjoy the provisions of the 1999 Constitution, which guarantee any Nigerian citizen the right to reside anywhere in the country.
His words: “It is the right of every citizen of Nigeria to move freely throughout Nigeria and to reside in any part of Nigeria. Therefore, no citizen of Nigeria shall be expelled or refused entry or exit as is guaranteed in Section 41 (1) of 1999 Constitution of Nigeria as amended.
“However, that same right is not unqualified as Section 45 of the same Constitution provides that nothing in Section 41 and other sections named therein shall invalidate any law that is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society. Now, a Fulani herdsman who embarks on killing, kidnapping or maiming members of the host community or anybody is going against the right to life, freedom of movement etc of that other person or persons.
“He is also committing a criminal offence. In that case, we should not be talking of evicting him from the community but prosecuting him for the crime committed. Of course, various states may make law banning open grazing or carrying of arms or dangerous weapons by anybody be he a Fulani herdsman or not. The law may prescribe sanctions for anybody that commits these offences. The sanction may include eviction from the community.
“In the absence of any such law under section 45 of the Constitution as stated above, it will be illegal to evict anybody just because he is from a particular ethnic origin.
Again, it will be illegal to evict anybody just because he is a Fulani herdsman or a particular place of origin.”
Anyadubalu gave further insight to the position of the law, explaining that Section 42 of the 1999 Constitution disallows discriminatory justice or law. “Therefore, nobody can make any law against any particular ethnic group, however, where anybody goes against the laws of the land, the applicable criminal laws will take place irrespective of the origin of the offender.”