Obinna Odogwu, Awka
Residents of Ugbene, a quiet community in Awka North Local Government Area of Anambra State, are not happy. They told Daily Sun that from any angle they view their community, various bizarre images of a people plagued by social lack stare them in the face. They lamented that what they summarily make of their place is that of a people completely forgotten and abandoned to fate by the government.
From terribly dilapidated roads, lack of pipe borne water, high rate of youth unemployment, poor economy, weak healthcare system, poor electricity supply, to high rate of poverty, Ugbene conveniently sits in the comity of abandoned communities in Anambra. Indeed, every community in the state, at the moment, has one mark of rot or the other.
Aside that, president-general of the community, Mr Emmanuel Nwude, alleged that suspected Fulani herdsmen often deal bad blows on the community: “The herdsmen have literally sworn never to allow farmers in this area cultivate their crops and reap same in peace.”
He alleged that herders usually lead their cattle into the farmlands, graze on them; and by the time they are done they leave marks of destruction on their trail.
Their woes came to a cimax with the recent collapse of the Ezu River Bridge, which clearly cut off the community from some other communities in the council area. They also use the bridge to access their farmlands across the water body. Since the bridge collapsed due to high increase in the volume of water occasioned by flooding; life has become difficult for the people.
Prior to the construction of the Bailey Bridge the residents usually crossed the river by canoe before they could access other communities which also link them to Achalla, headquarters of the council area. Respite came their way in February 2012 during the administration of the then governor of the state, Mr Peter Obi. A community leader, Chief Agbatue Emeka, said Obi contracted engineers of the Nigerian Army to build the bridge.
Although it was a narrow bridge that can only allow a vehicle at a time, the structure brought some relief to the residents. Unfortunately, the bridge collapsed about three months ago due to the increased floodwater occasioned by this year’s rains.
Nwude said: “It is getting to three months after the bridge collapsed but nobody has come to our rescue. I have called the local government chairman and he came and saw it. I have also called the member representing Awka North in the state House of Assembly but he is yet to come.
“We led a delegation to the Commissioner for Works’ office and met him. He told us that there was nothing he could do for now. We also wrote a letter to the governor and reached out to other important offices we should reach out to but nothing came out of it.
“We have been cut off from our neighbours and that road is closest to Awka. We also go to the council headquarters in Achalla through that road. We also access our farmlands through that road but since this thing happened, it has been very challenging for us.
“You saw that makeshift crossover we set up there; it is extremely risky because if it breaks, whoever that is on top of it must fall into the river. We are suffering greatly.”
On the frequent invasion of the community by suspected Fulani herdsmen, he said: “Another problem we are having comes from Fulani herdsmen. They would lead their cattle into our farmlands and destroy the crops we have grown.
“This thing did not start today but every effort we have made to stop them from destroying our farms has not yielded any fruit. We have gone to the Department of State Services (DSS), reported to the local government, and made several appeals to them yet the situation has remained the way it is.”
Herdsmen’s invasion of their farmlands did not start recently. There had been series of reports over the years of how herdsmen led their cattle to destroy, not just farms in Ugbene, but in other neighbouring communities in the area.
This reporter, in 2016, reported how three suspected Fulani herdsmen invaded the community and set their rice farms worth about N20 million ablaze. The incident, which happened in the early hours of January 2, that year, according to the villagers, was a result of a lingering feud between the two parties, which started in 2015.
They said at the time that the feud degenerated to the point of open confrontation of both parties with firearms.
Conducting this reporter round the smouldering scene, the farmers, some of who had tears cascading their chins lamented that they took loans to embark on the agricultural venture with the hope of paying back after sales.
Chairman of Miyetti-Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), in the South East, Alhaji Gidado Siddiki, denied the allegations. He told this reporter at the time that his kinsmen were innocent of the alleged crime:
“It is not true. Fulani herdsmen cannot do something like that. It is those people that burnt their rice farm. We have a committee that looks into such matter in Anambra. They should go and report the matter there.”
Again, from December 23, 2016 to January 14, 2017, suspected Fulani herdsmen visited the neighbouring communities of Ugbene, Ugbenu, and Achalla and unleashed mayhem. Their rice farms, tools and other farm facilities estimated at about N50 million were allegedly destroyed. On December 25, a group of herdsmen reportedly invaded rice farms in Ugbenu with more than 2,000 cows.
The rice plants already due for harvest were urinated and defecated upon by them. The residents told this reporter that they had sat back at home enjoying the Christmas celebration without a premonition of the destruction going on in their farms.
In Ugbene community, the story was the same. In less than one year after the suspected Fulani herdsmen set their rice farm ablaze in January 2, 2016, they struck again on December 23.
The Fulani herdsmen who were allegedly armed with AK47 rifles, cutlasses and other dangerous weapons threatened to invade the community if they dared retaliate. One of the victims, Mr Joseph Urebe, lamented that rather than graze on grasses, the herdsmen purposely led their herds of cattle into the farm with threats of killing whoever dared to touch the cows:
“The most annoying thing is that those people would tell you that you will have to share your rice with their cattle. It is crazy. I don’t know what or who gives them that guts. Sometimes they would threaten to hack you to death if you dared complain.”
When contacted, the Transition Committee Chairman of Awka North Local Government Area, Mr Ferdinand Onwuje, said that some of the issues in the community reported to him were being looked:
“Actually, when the thing happened, the President-General called me. I have visited the site of the bridge with the local government engineer and I have given the report to Commissioner for Local Government who asked me to prepare a report on that and if possible get the quotation let’s know how much the project will cost.
“The engineer is now working on the estimate and before next week it will be ready and I will take it to the commissioner. Meanwhile, I have taken the matter to the Commissioner for Works. I am pursuing it both sides so that whichever way it comes through, the work will be done.
On the herdsmen’s issue, he said: “I don’t have such information. I am the chairman of the committee as it concerns herdsmen and farmers. I have not got such report from Ugbene. I got report from Achalla and Ebenebe communities and I believe that we have tackled that one.”