From Tony John, Port Harcourt
Ogoni women in Rivers State have lamented the invasion and attack of herdsmen in their farmland, which has brought hardship to several families.
The women, who are mostly farmers, said that they have suffered badly following the incessant attack by the herdsmen who enter their farmland with impunity claiming that they have rights to farms and bushes in the area.
They raised the alarm during a day sensitisation programme on security defence organised by Lokiaka Community Development Centre in Port Harcourt.
Lamenting their ordeal in the hands of the herdsmen, Mary Amanikpo, a native of Lueku community in Nyo-Khana, Mercy Glory of Sogho community in Khana Local Government Area and Yeye Nkani, a native of Eleme, in Eleme Local Government Area, said they have not been able to go to their farms because of the attacks, adding that some were raped by the herdsmen.
According to Mrs Glory: ‘Since the herdsmen came into my community last year, they have been destroying our cassava to the extent that we could not bear it again. Some time ago, my son approached them and pursued them out from the farmland. But, they threatened my son with their dagger and machetes. My son narrowly escaped being killed.
‘We went to the community and reported to the youth leader. We went back to the farm the following day. I personally asked one of the herdsmen what happened to my cassava that they have destroyed and I don’t have anyone to harvest for food or to sell for my children upkeep. He told me that my community chief has collected money from them and they will stay till their money is exhausted.’
Glory disclosed that all efforts to have their representatives help drive away the herdsmen and peacefully regain their community have failed.
‘Our local government chairman and our representative at the state House of Assembly are aware of this, but have not done anything to help us,’ she said.
‘We, the Ogoni women, are all farmers and it is what we profit from farming that we use in training our children and doing all we want to do as livelihood.’
She urged the government to evict the herdsmen from their land and empower the women to return to active farming.
Earlier, Martha Agbani, Executive Director of Lokiaka, disclosed that the meeting with the women was to sensitise them on how to be vigilant and security conscious while in the farm, and how to defend themselves in case of any attack by the cattle herders.
‘We brought women together, especially Ogoni women farmers, who have been facing violence from herdsmen, women whose crops have been destroyed severally, women who have been molested,’ she explained.
‘We gathered some women who were raped by herdsmen in their farms in Ogoniland to train them on how to have some level of defense for themselves while in the farm.
‘We had one of the best security agencies in Nigeria handling the training for them today,’ she added.
Agbani, however, urged that the ‘Government needs to be more sensitive about issues in local areas because that is where we noticed today that violence takes place. There is more insecurity at the grassroots than we have in the urban areas.
‘Government needs to beef up security on that regards and for these women who have been facing this, they have been complaining, but government has been adamant about that.
‘Government needs to start listening to what is happening at the grassroots. We need more security stations at the grassroots; there is need for them to increase their security force there, so as to monitor these things.
‘Government should also come up with more enlightenment campaign and make people know what to do as we are doing today. We are taking up what government should have done by sensitising the woman putting them on guide to protect them.
‘For those that have already faced this challenge, government should give them some palliatives, most of them are subsistence farmers; most of them borrowed money to buy fertilizers, stems and some seeds to cultivate with the hope of selling and returning the loans they took.
‘As we all know, where there is no farmer, there is no nation and there is no food. Government needs to come up with subvention to assist them because we know they contribute heavily to the economy and the living standards of the people.’
The Assistant Commandant, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), Rivers State Command, Dr Iyekolo Gbemisola, who coordinated the security training of the women, condemned the activities of the herdsmen in the farms.
Dr Gbemisola assured that the government was working hard to control the situation.
‘One of the permanent solutions is border control, whereby, it is only those who are permitted to come into the country or into states that can come. Where you have these herdsmen walking on foot, they know these forests very well; they don’t care about the harsh conditions and wherever they reach, they believe they have taken possession of that land, which is wrong.
‘That permanent solution is in the hands of the federal government and the government is trying to do their best, to take control of these herdsmen and we are hopeful that soon these problems will be under control,’ Dr Gbemisola said.