Magnus Eze, Raphael Ede, Enugu and Jeff Amechi Agbodo, Onitsha
There was uncontrollable wailing at Uzo-Uwani, last Friday, during the burial of Dr. Nnamdi Ogueche, senior lecturer at the Nnamdi Azikwe University, Awka, Anambra State and Administrative Secretary of Ezeagu Local Government Area of Enugu State, who was allegedly killed in March by suspected herders while returning from a peace meeting between his kinsmen and Fulani herdsmen.
Ogueche was shot dead along Iwolo Road in Ezeagu on his way back from the meeting as a member of a team sent to assess the level of damage to the farm crops in his community, Adaba and Lokpa by suspected herders.
The peace meeting was summoned by the Special Adviser to Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi on security matters, Brig. Gen. Fred Eze (retd).
While the anxiety raised by Ogueche’s killing was yet to settle, attackers suspected to be Fulani herdsmen, in the wee hours of last weekend, stormed Anam in Anambra West Local Government Area of Anambra State, leaving in their trail, tears, sorrow and blood, having killed six persons, with some of them beheaded.
A witness, Mr. Orjiako Nnaluo (Ideh Anam) alleged that the herdsmen swooped on the farm settlements known as Agweopia Camp, Iyiogbu Camp and Iyinkolo, respectively around 5:40am and started killing people, burning houses and raped many women.
Nnaluo said before people of the community knew what was going on, the herdsmen had killed six persons and left no fewer than 30 others with various degrees of injuries. They are currently receiving treatment in an undisclosed hospital.
He said the farmers were yet to recover from a previous attack which claimed three lives. According to him, Governor Willie Obiano was aware of the case and promised to have it resolved.
Another community that has borne the brunt over the years is Mmiata in Anambra West, to the point that their women recently protested and even held their traditional ruler, Igwe Sylvester Nnose hostage for allegedly allowing herders into their domain, an allegation the monarch has rebuffed.
President-General of Mmiata community, Prof. Peter Okonkwo, recounted the plight of his people in the hands of herdsmen.
“For the past three years, they have been coming to our place; they alleged that they paid the traditional ruler to be in our community for seven years. Our women last year protested against their stay, following the maiming, raping and destruction of our crops. The women demanded that they should leave our community. But they refused to go out of our place until I wrote to their leader but they refused to leave. We allowed them.
“So, this time again, they started destroying our crops and sacked our people in the farm, raped our women and kidnapped our people. We don’t farm for fun or as a hobby, we live on farming. I was trained in school from proceeds from farms and today I’m a professor. All we have today came from farming. So, when you damage our crops, it is not what you play around with. So, this time, they kidnapped one man but he managed to escape, they raped some women in our farm settlements.”
He disclosed that Mmiata women forced the monarch to swear to an oath never to collect money and bring herdsmen into the community again since the herders claimed that the Igwe brought them, an allegation the traditional ruler has since rebuffed.
The community was under security siege following an allegation that they killed a herdsman, but, their half-nude women resisted attempt by a joint team of military and police to effect arrests.
Former chairman of old Anambra local government, comprising the present Anambra East, Anambra West, Oyi and Ayamelum council areas, Chief Emma Nnachor, accused the police of taking sides with the herdsmen.
He alleged that when the community petitions over herdsmen attack and destruction of their farm crops, the police never act, but would be quick to threaten to arrest everybody once the herdsmen raise an alarm.
“Fulani herdsmen killed our son in cold blood. We made report to the police but up till now the police have not made any arrest. But the same police is threatening to come and arrest more people in our community because the young men who could not bear the destruction had a clash with the Fulani herdsmen. Since two months now, three of our men are still in police custody,” Nnachor alleged.
Similarly, there has been uneasy calm in many agrarian communities of Enugu State three years after herdsmen attacked Nimbo in Uzo-Uwani.
Since the 2016 Nimbo onslaught that saw the gruesome murder of 11 members of the community, there had been so many other attacks at Nkerefi, Amagunze, and Ugbawka in Nkanu, as well as Aninri, Udi, Ezeagu Local Government Areas. Some of them resulted in deaths.
Government’s failure to prosecute those arrested, for instance, in the case of Nimbo killings had questioned its sincerity to address the menace of herdsmen in the state.
Regardless, they had constituted the Enugu State Security and Peace Committee, to look into herdsmen/farmers’ issues and as much as possible curtail clashes among them.
The committee, which started in September 2016, is mandated to ensure, “that there should be no night rearing of cattle, no night movement; that any cattle that destroys crop, the owner of the cattle will pay and any community that kills cattle, the community will pay for it.”
Again, there should be no carrying of arms and ammunition by the herdsmen.
Ensuring the full implementation of the mandate provides that any herdsmen that enter any community must obtain permission from the traditional ruler.
At the moment, Nimbo community has categorically declared that they would no longer live with herders who they called Fulani terrorists again, even as peace was gradually returning to the community.
“The herdsmen we have now are terrorists and we cannot live with them,” Nimbo traditional ruler, John Ikemefuna Akor, said, stressing that initially when herdsmen destroyed crops they paid compensation but, the new generation of herdsmen destroy farm plantation and instead of begging they would resort to killing.
A farmer in Uzo-Uwani, Mrs. Mary Akor said they were afraid to live with herdsmen because they have formed a habit they could not tolerate anymore.
“They destroy our farms and rape our women for saying why do you destroy our crops?”
Reacting to the allegations against herders, Chairman, Myetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), South-East zone, Gidado Sadiq, denied that herdsmen were terrorists.
“We are not here to terrorize anyone, but we’re scared of people coming under the guise of the Fulani herdsmen to unleash terror on our hosts,”
Senior Special Adviser to Enugu State Governor on Security Matters, Brig. Gen. Eze, when contacted said government was making frantic effort to ensure a harmonious relationship between the herdsmen and host communities to forestall any crisis.
Also, Commissioner of Police, Balarabe Suleiman has promised to ensure that any herdsmen that attack any community or carry out any unlawful act would not go scot-free in the state.
Meanwhile, the Anglican Bishop of Mbamili Diocese, the Rt. Rev Henry Okeke has condemned the latest round of killings saying the situation was a threat to food production in the agrarian communities.
“This is a very unfortunate incident because these are core farmers. They are the food basket of Anambra State. Definitely, it is going to affect not only the economy of our state but the country generally,” he said.
President of Anambra West Youths, Mr. John David, like Bishop Okeke, however, advised the youths of the area not to take laws into their hands, even as he expected the stakeholders to resolve the issue soonest.
Without mincing words, the resurgence of herdsmen attacks in parts of Anambra and Enugu states has brought sorrow to many homes.